Options for Family Philanthropy


Baruch S. Littman is vice president of development for the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, which manages total charitable assets exceeding $700 million.

With the wealth creation of the past 25 years, a generation of recently minted millionaires is now contemplating the philanthropic options that are a fortunate byproduct of success.

For many, the prestige of establishing a private family foundation (PFF) to dispense charitable gifts to favored causes is alluring — a dream come true. But is it really? As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.

Along with the hope of becoming a philanthropist in the vein of Rockefeller, Gates or Buffett, the creators of PFFs assume considerable burdens, as well, in the form of administrative and investment-management obligations, reporting requirements, minimum gifting of assets as required under the tax code and a loss of privacy. The unfortunate reality is that the expense ratios of private foundations holding assets of less than $10 million often make them woefully inefficient as philanthropic vehicles.

According to a 2001 study (the most recent year for which data is available) by the Foundation Management Series on the administrative expenses of private foundations, the mean expense ratios of operating PFFs rose sharply as net charitable assets declined. Specifically, the study showed that the expense ratio of undistributed assets was 2.79 percent for those PFFs with assets of $5 million to $9.9 million, with some paying in excess of 40 percent of assets. For PFFs with assets below $5 million, the expense ratio averaged 1.1 percent but ran as high as almost 13 percent. While this survey is now several years old, it is a fair assumption that those expense ratios have only increased over time.

So given this philanthropist’s conundrum, what are the viable alternatives?

One of those solutions comes in the form of donor-advised funds (DAF), the charitable-gifting instruments that can be established at most community foundations, charitable-fund host organizations and many commercial investment-management firms with as little as $10,000 to $20,000. For that comparatively small amount, the charitable-minded individual or family can have the personal equivalent of a PFF with complete privacy and no back-office headaches. There are no tax returns to be completed, no annual meetings to conduct. In short, the philanthropist leaves the administration to the host organization and is able to experience the pleasure of distributing charity to needy causes through the DAF. The donor receives an immediate tax deduction on assets used to establish the DAF and can continue to add to the fund over time and realize further deductions on those contributions.

Of course, there are a lot of zeros between $10,000 and $10 million, and the obvious question is whether a DAF makes sense for someone with significant charitable assets and who is considering establishing or folding up a PFF. The short answer is a resounding yes, and, in many instances, it actually makes the most sense.

Case-in-point: At the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, the largest DAF account has a balance in excess of $50 million. Certainly, this philanthropist could create his own PFF or family support organization (FSO), the actual community foundation equivalent of a private family foundation. He has already fulfilled funding of his children’s DAFs, FSOs and PFFs for them as they wished. With his vast remaining charitable dollars, our donor’s own DAF represents the easiest option. Each year, he contributes additional funds to his DAF with either low-basis marketable securities or fractional interests in real estate, which, unlike PFFs, community foundations can accept and offer a fair-market-value tax deduction (more about this to follow).

There are, as well, a significant number of other reasons and advantages why an individual or family should consider establishing a DAF or FSO as an alternative to creating or folding up a PFF. Among them:

• Lower costs for management of charitable assets. In general, the management fee for a DAF with assets of $1 million to $10 million will never be more than 1.5 percent. Even better, a comparably sized FSO will have all-inclusive management fees of approximately 80 basis points, or 0.8 percent. Consider these fees in contrast to the aforementioned study of private foundations. In that same data, expenses as a percentage of the annual payout were outsized: PFFs with assets of $5 million to $9.9 million had a mean expense ratio of a whopping 16.3 percent. Those PFFs with less than $5 million still had mean expenses in relation to payout of 7.2 percent.
• Contribution of C-corp stock or low-basis real estate. PFFs are prohibited under the tax code from receiving contributions of C-corp stock, which is regarded by the IRS as self-dealing. With respect to both low-basis and fractional real estate donations to a PFF, as referenced above, the donor’s deductibility is limited to the tax-adjusted basis (i.e., the depreciated value). As such, a fully depreciated piece of real estate can be contributed to a PFF, but would not qualify for a deduction. By contrast, a DAF can accept both of these asset classes and offer your clients a fair-market-value tax deduction, avoidance of all capital-gains taxes on the donated interests and, in the case of real estate, eliminate the recapture of previously claimed depreciation.
• Undistributed assets as part of the required 5 percent minimum asset distribution. Commonly known is that a PFF must make charitable gifts of 5 percent of its total assets annually to maintain tax-exempt status. Less known, however, is that DAFs are an ideal repository for these undistributed assets. In the eyes of the IRS, once transferred to a DAF, the assets from the PFF have been given away for proper charitable purpose. Once in the DAF, your client can then take as long as he or she likes to determine how and where to distribute.
• Second generation (G-2) family issues. Establishing and maintaining a PFF can be a lonely venture. Where to turn for resources? How to engage your children — the second generation — in a shared philanthropic vision? While counsel can be obtained for PFFs, consulting fees can be considerable and add to the above-referenced and onerous operating expenses that cut into available funds for good works. By contrast, community foundations and other host organizations offer a substantial array of resources designed to assist donors: programs on issues in charitable giving, intergenerational planning and assistance in tapping philanthropic passions, for example.

Before a client accelerates full speed into establishing a private family foundation with less than $10 million in assets, financial advisers would do well to flash the yellow caution light, encourage the philanthropist-to-be to yield, and consider the full range of giving options available before opening the charitable throttle. Doing so are critical first steps in becoming a committed, informed philanthropist.

Laura’s Smile


Laura Benichou was born on June 9, 1998, with a hole in her heart. This hole probably saved her life, because she was also born without her main pulmonary artery.

The blood had to go somewhere, so it went through the hole. Her condition would take too long to explain, but one result was the lowering of the oxygen level in her blood to 75 percent and below (normal is 99 percent to 100 percent), which meant that her body had to compensate by producing more red blood cells. This in turn thickened her blood and caused other complications, like periodic brain seizures.

The first major seizure happened before she was a year old. To save her life, the top cardiac team at a major hospital in Los Angeles performed an 11-hour operation that implanted small “pipes and faucets” to help normalize the blood flow between her heart and lungs. This didn’t get the results they wanted, so a few weeks later they went back in to implant larger devices. Laura was not responding well to post-surgery care, which created more complications and led to another operation. After six months and three major operations, Laura was a year and a half old when she returned home.

Laura has never spoken a word, but she can coo, laugh, sigh and cry. At her best, she has taken steps with the help of a walker. She has a thin body with a smallish, sweet face framed by dark-brown hair. She gets 24-hour home care, with three rotating nurses monitoring her breathing and other vital signs.

One of those nurses says that Laura expresses a wide range of “appropriate” emotions, from happiness to surprise to crying for attention. Her favorite movie is “Mary Poppins,” and her favorite TV show is “Hannah Montana.” She likes toys that move, and she has a fondness for anything slapstick.

Oh yeah, and she loves to smile.

It’s that spontaneous smile, which I saw firsthand on a recent visit to her family’s handsome high-ceilinged apartment in West Hollywood, that her mother says “hypnotizes everyone who meets her.”

I think the smile has also helped her family fight to keep her alive. While she was in the hospital for six months, her parents took turns to be with her at all times. Her brother, a very cool-looking 16-year-old who’s a starter on his high school basketball team, is very protective of her and seems to have a knack for making her laugh.

Her mother, Veronique, a thin and perfectly put-together French Moroccan Jew in her early 40s, has become a walking medical handbook. During my late-afternoon visit, while she was serving mint tea in elegant china, she took several hours to calmly answer all my questions regarding their ordeal, and Laura’s medical history, even drawing a diagram to explain one of the surgeries.

Veronique says she “stopped living” when the doctors told her the news about Laura. At the time, she had a thriving international trading business. Her husband Richard, an intense, darkly handsome, French Algerian Jew who is a member of the Pinto shul on Pico Boulevard, ran a successful garment business. They were also going through a major renovation of their home near the Sunset Strip, which they were preparing for the new baby.

It didn’t take long for the house (which they have since sold) and their businesses to take a back seat to Laura. Veronique herself was in a “coma of denial” for the first few months, but once she got out of it, she became quietly unstoppable — whether fighting in court against insurance companies (so far, she has prevailed at the key hearings) or doing constant research on the Internet to make sure that everything medically possible is being done for her daughter.

And God knows she’s done it all, medically and otherwise. She recalls now, with a tinge of disappointment, how vulnerable she was to faith healers of all kinds. She especially remembers the woman mystic from Israel, who spent three days rubbing different oils on her daughter while chanting special prayers. Veronique knew then that because they were people of means, there would be no shortage of miracle workers knocking on their door. But she was too vulnerable to turn them away.

Meanwhile, she was knocking on the doors of emergency rooms at all times of the day and night, whenever Laura had a seizure or some other complication. After a few years, she got so frustrated with the service and long waits that she started a company called SOS Medlink, which coordinates a network of doctors who make house calls (I’ve used the service myself, and if I had a say on the Messiah, I’d nominate a doctor who makes house calls). She is currently looking for partners to expand the business nationally, in the hope that it will help provide for Laura’s future care. Her husband has also gone back to work.

Right now, they’re both hoping for a medical success. They don’t like the option of doing nothing, because Laura’s condition hasn’t gotten any better, which leaves her at risk of another seizure (Veronique won’t elaborate). At the same time, though, an “out of the box” operation to repair Laura’s heart is also delicate. So they’re torn between two risky options.

Veronique and her husband will soon make a decision. In the last few days, they have met with a prominent surgeon, and they are exploring a “middle of the road” option that will hopefully do a little repair of the heart and buy them some more time.

In the meantime, they will continue to care for Laura around the clock, take her to parties and to visit family around town, and enjoy one thing that can always fill the hole in their own hearts.

Her smile.

It’s Pat — South African queen of kosher cuisine


Smoked duck with papaya salsa. Wild mushroom turnovers. Chicken roulade with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. Sushi.
Hungry yet? Good.

You keep kosher? Not a problem.

These are just a few of the elegantly presented gourmet dishes created by Pat Fine, of Pat’s Restaurant and Pat’s Catering.
In the nearly three decades since Fine started serving up her dishes in the Southland, the kosher dining landscape has changed dramatically. As David Kamp chronicles in his book, “The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation,” Americans of all stripes have been tutored in fine dining by a string of successful chefs, food critics, cookbook writers and restaurateurs over the last 30 years. This phenomenon has raised the bar for kosher cooking as well, creating demand for chic kosher dining.

Fine has been — and remains — a kosher cuisine pioneer in Los Angeles. Perhaps Rabbi Meyer May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and frequent Pat’s customer, sums it up best: “She’s the queen of kosher catering, absolutely top of the line.”

Raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Fine was one of four daughters. Her mother had very little interest in cooking, so Fine and her sisters were given free reign in the kitchen. Her father, a man who loved to eat, proved an enthusiastic recipient of his daughters’ culinary adventures.

Although had she expressed a desire to become a professional cook, Fine is convinced that her mother “would have freaked.” Cooking was thought of as “such an ordinary job, one that simply wasn’t OK for nice Jewish girls,” Fine said.
As a concession to her parents, Fine went on to university to train and work as a pharmacist.

“I was misguided,” she said. “Someone should have said to me ‘Why don’t you go to chefs school?’ I would have loved to go to Cordon Bleu or somewhere like that. But I didn’t, and I regret that.”

Continuing to live and work in Johannesburg, Fine met her husband, Errol. They married in 1970 and soon started their own family. While Fine’s parents were traditional Jews — they lit candles on Friday nights and celebrated the holidays — her in-laws were more observant.

“They kept kosher, so of course when I married I began to [keep kosher] as well,” Fine said.

As massive riots broke out in Soweto near Johannesburg in 1976, the Fines left South Africa with their three sons to start anew in California.

“I had never left the country until we emigrated; I didn’t even have a passport,” Fine said.

The Fines settled in Los Angeles, where Errol was the financial controller for a chain of men’s clothing stores. Pat was busy at home with their children, but still loved learning about food and creating new recipes, so she spent a lot of time “reading and experimenting on my own.”

Over time, more and more of Fine’s friends asked her to prepare food for celebrations and events.

“I was cooking out of my house. I was doing everything myself — the shopping, cooking, delivery, serving. It became too much,” she said.

Since large trucks were prohibited from frequenting her residential neighborhood, Fine would sometimes send deliveries to her children’s school and then transport items with her own car.

Fine expanded her catering with the purchase of a deli on Pico Boulevard in 1982, which she named Elite Cuisine. She soon opened a second Elite Cuisine deli on Beverly Boulevard near Hancock Park. (Although Fine has since sold both delis, the new owner of the Hancock Park location has kept the name.)

As Fine remembers, “When we started out, there were just places like Nosh and Rye. There was nothing else — just some falafel places, kosher hot dogs, deli food. I would tell people that we’ve got pasta salad and they’d say ‘macaroni salad?’ because that was all they knew.”

When she sold the last of her delis about 15 years ago, Fine consolidated her business, opened the fleishig (meat) Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard near Doheny Drive and expanded the catering operations. Around the same time, Fine said, she offered her accountant husband a job.

With Errol Fine running the business side — from managing 50 employees to handling details for events as far away as in San Francisco — Pat Fine is free to spend her time focused on food.

“He has a lot of charisma, so he meets with people. I prefer to be in the kitchen,” she said.

“It’s a very good partnership,” she added.

As kosher cooking has become increasingly sophisticated and customer’s palettes have become more refined, Fine said she endeavors to stay ahead of the curve. Inspired by her customers’ knowledge and by other creative chefs, Fine said, “Whatever they’re doing out there, say at Spago’s, we’re doing, but kosher.”

Despite her ongoing love for fine food, one shouldn’t expect an invitation for a home-cooked meal at the Fine residence any time soon. At the end of the workday, her home kitchen is the last place Pat Fine wants to be.

She warned, “If you ask me to make coffee at home it’s a big deal — you’re on your own. The most you’ll get in my house is a bagel and cottage cheese.”

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.”

Social Action Groups Fight for Cleaning Ladies’ Rights


I am sitting in a Brooklyn diner, having breakfast with Marlene Champion, 61, a tall, striking woman from Barbados. Champion makes her living as a domestic worker, and right now she works as a nanny caring for a 4-year-old girl in Brooklyn Heights.

Champion is also an active member of Domestic Workers United (DWU), a Bronx-based organization fighting for domestic workers’ rights. In the 16 years since she immigrated to the United States, Champion has worked in four households, all Jewish. With the exception of one family that treated her badly, she says she’s had good relations with all of them.

Champion felt especially close to a Dr. Steiner, whom she took care of for six years, until he died at 92 with Champion at his side. She was in charge of all his care, prepared his meals, did the laundry and kept his apartment clean. She accompanied him to all the family weddings.

He had specialized in the study of tuberculosis, and he used to tell her stories about his work. Sometimes, he showed her his old slides. You’d make such a great doctor, or nurse, he used to tell her. Champion still keeps a picture of Steiner on her wall, and stays in close contact with his children.

After she finishes telling me her story, I say that my family had a housekeeper when I was growing up. I also say something that she probably already knows: that hiring domestic help is fairly common in Jewish households. And then I ask her what is special, if anything, about working for Jewish families. She smiles.
“We’re of different races,” she says. “But I think we have a lot in common.”

When Jews hire people to do household jobs — anybody who cleans, cooks, does the laundry, cares for children or elderly parents — we are the ones who represent the privileged class, with the funds to hire help. Jews today are generally wealthier and better educated than the majority of Americans. But the widespread practice of having “help” goes all the way back to our grandmother’s day, when even Jewish families in modest circumstances very often had cleaning ladies, perhaps because the wages for domestic work were so low that even working-class families could often afford this small luxury.

“It wasn’t as if you were putting on airs,” a Jewish lady in her 70s told me. “Having a cleaning lady was socially acceptable.”

Yet even the term “cleaning lady” indicates the awkwardness employers feel in the presence of a rather un-American class system. We don’t need to call the electrician the “electrical fix-it gentleman,” after all.

Today, two-career households need housekeepers and nannies and cleaning ladies even more than the stereotypical clean-floor-obsessed housewives of a previous generation might have. Indeed, some of the backlash against the women’s movement focuses on this issue: The gains of middle-class women during the last three decades, critics charge, were achieved through the exploitation of other, less fortunate women. And despite the energy that fueled the 1970s efforts to elevate the status of housecleaners — stating that being paid fairly for a job responsibly done was no different if you were a housekeeper than if you were any other kind of laborer — those early efforts to make the relationship between employer and employee more businesslike never took hold.

Our relationship with the women who work in our homes is still inherently an unequal one. This fact makes many of us so uncomfortable that some Jewish women refuse to have household help even if they can afford it. Breena Kaplan, 65, is an artist on Long Island who has always done her own cleaning,
“It’s my schmutz, so I should take care of it,” said Kaplan, a “red-diaper baby” who grew up in “the Co-ops,” two Bronx apartment buildings populated in the 1940s and onward largely by left-wing Jews.

Her father, who came from Russia, a card-carrying Communist, made “a good living” in the textile business, and he insisted that Luba, his wife, have help in the house. Kaplan remembers Elizabeth, a tall black woman who smelled of starch and soap, standing over the sink, scrubbing the family’s wash. But Elizabeth didn’t last long, because Luba couldn’t stand the humiliation she felt at a black woman coming into her home and slaving away for her in, of all places, the Co-ops.

Some Jewish women attempt to deal with the discomfort they feel at the imbalance of power between them and their domestic workers by reframing the relationship as a collaboration. Carla Singer, a film producer in New York City, employs Grace Smith — not her real name — as a twice-weekly housekeeper. Singer says she really only needs Smith one day a week, but, “this is tikkun. I know where my extra money is going — to support Grace and her son. If I send it to a charity, I don’t know where my money is going.”

Singer feels that the tikkun, or repair of the world, is mutual — Smith helped her out at a very difficult time, after Singer had just made a hugely dislocating transition, she said, moving to New York from Los Angeles with her teenage daughter. One day, as Smith was helping them settle into a new apartment, Singer, stressed-out, snapped at her.

Smith shot back: “You know, Carla, we’re partners in this.”

“She was right,” Singer said. “In a sense, she doesn’t work for me.”

Except that Smith does work for Singer. And it’s time, especially in the context both of the global discussion of immigration laws and the more local desperation of working mothers juggling many needs, to talk openly about the relationship between Jewish women and the help — almost always female — we employ in the intimate settings of our own homes and families.

According to DWU, virtually all domestic workers today are immigrants, the vast majority of them undocumented, which makes it all too easy for employers to exploit them, wittingly or not. The good news is that there’s movement to encourage Jews to treat those who work for us with fairness, as we’re enjoined to do as a basic Jewish value.

A series of interviews with both Jewish employers and their domestic workers revealed that, happily, the mutual respect between Champion and the Steiner family is not unique. But I also heard awful stories about Jewish families who treat their domestic workers badly, ranging from subtle to not-so-subtle insults — recalling Philip Roth’s cringe-inducting scene of Portnoy’s mother and her treatment of the so-called “schvartze” in “Portnoy’s Complaint” — and a real blindness to the basic needs of the employee to allegations of physical abuse.

Some bosses, in flagrant disregard of Jewish teachings and basic consideration, don’t pay their domestic workers on time. “Do not withhold the pay of your workers overnight,” it says in Leviticus 19:13. Or, in a striking lack of empathy, some employers don’t recognize the dire financial consequences to a day worker who may be counting on the next day’s wages to pay the rent, or feed her kids, who gets a call the night before, announcing “I don’t need you tomorrow.”

Some women mistreat their domestic workers in more subtle ways. Gayle Kirshenbaum, 39, who is active in Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, a New York City-based grass-roots group with the stated goal of injecting a “progressive Jewish voice” into New York City politics, once remarked to a friend, also Jewish, how awful it must be for Caribbean domestic workers to have to leave their children back home with relatives. Her friend disagreed.

“No, it doesn’t bother them,” the friend said. “They’re not like us.”

Another woman spoke of her friend, a Holocaust survivor’s daughter in her 50s, living in a New York suburb, who confessed to feeling gratified when she ordered around a non-Jewish Polish immigrant cleaning lady.

The one family that Champion said did not treat her well consisted of two ill and elderly parents, whom Champion looked after for eight months, and their adult daughter who lived nearby. The problem, Champion said, was the daughter.

She would buy only enough groceries for her parents; Champion was expected to get her own food. When Champion lifted the father from his bed to his wheelchair — something she had been trained to do — the daughter, likening Champion to a man, would call her “Harry.”

And one day, when the daughter was visiting, Champion overheard a conversation between daughter and father. The father was telling his daughter how much he liked Champion, so much that he’d like to give her something. Maybe even some stock that he owned.

The daughter was furious. “Oh, no! They’re just the help!” she screamed loudly. Champion, although in another room, could not help but hear. “Give it to your grandchildren!”

Money, of course, is a real issue. Many domestic workers are badly paid. According to DWU, some day workers receive as little as $2 an hour; some live-ins are paid $250 a month. DWU recommends a living wage of $14 an hour.

Even though labor laws technically protect all workers, documented or not, in reality the laws fail domestic workers. Domestics do not have the right to unionize, and most are undocumented immigrants, which makes them doubly vulnerable. These facts make it nearly impossible for them to demand such rights as health care, severance pay, paid vacation, sick days, notice of termination — all things that we would likely assume were due us if we were the employees ourselves. But how domestic workers fare depends entirely on the will, good or ill, of their employers.

Jeannie Prager of Englewood, N.J., spoke about how these issues play out in her tightly knit modern Orthodox community in a New York suburb: “We are the people who seem to hire the most housekeepers. And we’re doing a terrible job.”

Prager knows this, because over the years she’d gotten quite an earful, both from Victoria Smith (not her real name), her former housekeeper, and from Smith’s schmoozing friends, who often hung out at the house.

Prager recently fired Smith, who had been with her for 13 years, providing care to Prager’s ailing nonagenarian mother for the last nine of them.

“It was time for a change,” Prager said. “She was always on the phone. Her friends who worked in the neighborhood often stopped by for a bite and a chat on their way home. It was all just too much, too much noise and commotion.”
Letting Smith go was a tough decision, though. “She was a godsend in many ways. And a 13-year relationship, with two women sharing one kitchen, becomes a very close friendship.”

When Prager finally got the words out, she gave Smith two weeks’ notice and $5,000, six weeks’ severance pay. Smith, also eligible for unemployment compensation, was furious.

“I always held you up on a pedestal,” Smith told her employer. “But my friends always warned me. And now I see that they were right, that you’re just like all the rest.”

“The rest,” of course, meant “the rest of the Jews.” Prager felt horrible. But despite Smith’s anger, she and her family paid a shiva call when Prager’s mother died shortly after the firing.

Smith declined several requests to speak with this writer directly, though she and Prager stay in touch.

It took Smith seven months to find a comparable job. Prager said she was the one to find it for her. In the Prager household, Smith had two weeks off annually to start, increased to three weeks at her 10-year anniversary, five sick days, three personal days and “of course,” said Prager, paid holidays.

Prospective employers, responding to the ad Prager posted for Smith on the shul’s Web site, kept telling her they’d never heard of a housekeeper getting paid vacation.

“These things upset me so much,” Prager told me. “They give us such a bad name.”
Worried, Prager approached her rabbi with the idea of starting a discussion in the congregation about practices around hiring household help.

“I feel that if some of these women could speak in a safe environment and say what bothers them, and likewise for their housekeepers, we would all benefit,” she said. The rabbi said her idea was interesting, and that was the end of it.

Prager had nailed it, though her rabbi wasn’t listening. But at least one rabbi is: Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of the Brooklyn congregation Kolot Chayeinu devoted last year’s Rosh Hashanah sermon to employing domestic workers, not a usual High Holidays theme.

“Since we are Jews sitting here together on a night designated for thinking about doing right, it seems crucial that we Jews be thoughtful about and to the people who work in our homes,” she said. And often, she added, we are not. “Not out of malice, but out of busyness and lack of thought.”

Lippmann cited the story of Sarah and Hagar, whom the infertile Sarah mistreats when Hagar conceives. The Ramban, Lippman said, “says Sarah sinned when she did this and so did Abraham by letting it happen.”

She added: “When we hire someone to work in our homes, we must see that person as fully human, seen by God.”

Lippmann, like Kirshenbaum, is active in Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). Two years ago, the group embarked on a “Shalom Bayit” campaign in partnership with DWU. JFREJ also hosts small group discussions in people’s homes, the “living room project.”

As part of the campaign, the group’s members conduct discussions in synagogues about the just treatment of domestic workers. Last year, for example, Kirshenbaum and DWU members Champion and Allison Julien were invited to visit Temple Beth-El in Great Neck, an upscale New York suburb, for the congregation’s social action Shabbat. The women spoke about domestic workers’ rights.

JFREJ’s membership is decidedly left-leaning. In their shalom bayit, or peace in the house, campaign, the group is consciously trying, says Kirshenbaum, “to broach the line between progressive and more traditional Jews.” Because it is clear, she says, “how deeply this issue resonates in the Jewish community” in both directions. Jews are employers, she said, and they also want to do right by their employees.

“Doing right” means putting your money where your mouth is. At the living room meetings, JFREJ organizers talk about the specifics of treating domestic workers in a professional manner. Which means, for example, offering full-time employees a contract. The standard contract, based on a DWU model, specifies, for example, what responsibilities the job does — and does not — entail, how many paid sick days and vacation days the employee is entitled to, what the rate of payment will be for overtime work, the medical care the employer agrees to pay for, and what the food arrangement will be.

The document explaining the contract goes out of its way to assure employers that using a contract is good for them, too, leading to more loyalty from the employee, and an end to abrupt departures, as there’s a “must give notice” clause.

But it may take a while to shift employers from the more casual — and less fair, though less costly — model of doing business. The JFREJ-DWU presentation last year at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, said social action committee chairwoman Alice Fornari, did not get much of a response.

“The evening ends and then it’s over,” Fornari said. “Nobody talked to me about it afterward.”

Other social-action subjects — stopping the genocide in Darfur, for example — get a significant response from the whole community, said Rabbi Darcie Krystal, who with Fornari organized the social action Shabbat and was supportive of the domestic workers issue. With domestic help it’s a different matter.

“It’s a very risky topic for a social action Shabbat,” Fornari told me. “People don’t want it in their face.” People, she said, would rather hear about, say, Israel. In other words, things and places that are far away.

“I don’t think most people care about the rights of domestic workers,” Fornari said. “They don’t feel it’s a topic that’s relevant to their lives, even though the women they hire are taking care of their homes and their children. People don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to do anything about it.”

It is a topic dear to her, Fornari said, because of her involvement with each of the housekeepers she has employed over the years in her own home. She helped one, who came from Bolivia not knowing any English, to get into college; the woman is now a teacher. Extensive interviews reveal that many Jewish employers have tried similarly to improve the individual lives of their housekeepers, to whom they’ve grown close; Fornari’s behavior, like Prager’s, is not an isolated phenomenon. Fornari is determined to continue the conversation that she started at Temple Beth-El. She would love to see a living room session in Great Neck.

Kirshenbaum described hosting such a meeting at a friend’s home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a neighborhood where a majority of the women pushing strollers on the streets look to be other than the babies’ mothers.

“There were perhaps 11 people there. We raised issues like the fact that if you go on vacation, you need to pay your domestic worker. And people said, ‘But no, if I’m going away, I shouldn’t have to pay.’ ”

“But then,” Kirshenbaum continued, “I could see people shifting categories, for the first time. It was like lightbulbs going on. These women had thought of their domestic workers as casual baby sitters, not as women who were counting on this salary to pay their own household bills. And now, they were suddenly realizing, ‘We are employers and they are our employees, and of course I get sick leave, so why shouldn’t they?'”

“There is no shame in hiring someone to work for us,” Kirshenbaum said. “The only shame is in not treating them well.”

This article is reprinted with permission from Lilith Magazine: Independent, Jewish & Frankly Feminist.

Skateboard Creator Builds Business on Performance


Don Tashman doesn’t look like a skater boy, not with his scraggly, brown hair and three-day-old unshaven stubble that’s yet to materialize into a beard.

This religious boy from Beverlywood doesn’t even look like a surfer boy — which he is, as these things usually go hand in hand, along with snowboarding. Tashman certainly doesn’t look like the creator and owner of Loaded Boards and Pigeons Inc., the hip skateboarding company that has brought performance boards back to the industry.

No, 31-year-old Tashman doesn’t look like a dude, not with his short-sleeved, button-down shirt, untucked over loose, brandless blue jeans, but that’s OK, because his co-workers do. The long, lean, sun-kissed blond boys stack skateboards according to styles (Fish, Hammerhead, Pintail, Vanguard) or sit on yoga stability balls at computers, looking like they’re playing video games or designing specs — something that makes them almost as happy as riding a board — any board: skate, surf, snow.

Tashman doesn’t need to look the part of the people he designs skateboards for, because he’s got the attitude, for sure — laid back, imperturbable, chill.
These are the qualities that have gotten Loaded a reputation for authenticity in a world clannishly obsessed with it. It’s been four years since he founded the company, and Tashman said he can’t keep up with demand (he declines to give actual figures) and will be forced to move offices soon from mid-Wilshire, where he shares space with his father and brothers, who work in real estate and futures exchange.

Skateboarding runs in the Tashman family, although not on the paternal side. His mother, who also grew up religious, skateboarded when she was a kid. She was sponsored by a local Velcro company. “She took her old roller skates and nailed them to a two-by-four for her first skateboards,” Tashman said. Since he was 3 years old, “she would attach me to my skateboard and pull me down hills and our neighbor’s empty swimming pool,” he said. “She always wanted me to be a cantor, though.”

Tashman didn’t become a cantor. He grew up Orthodox, attended Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YOLA) and then moved to New York to become an English major at Columbia University in 1994.

“I was short-boarding and couldn’t get around,” Tashman said, referring to the shorter boards in vogue then, which were hard to maneuver around the streets of Manhattan. He started developing his own boards for his own use. After he finished college in 1999, he went to study at a yeshiva in Israel. After a few months there, someone convinced him to work as a traveling salesman for an Israeli technology company. He spent a year at that, then, in his wise and quiet way, Tashman cashed out his stock options two weeks before the market crashed in April 2000.

With about $150,000, Tashman spent the next two years developing the boards he’d begun designing at Columbia. Performance was key but so was finding environmentally friendly materials, like bamboo instead of oak.

Tashman said that because he surfed here growing up, he became interested in making the environment better.

“Surfing in L.A. water is to feel the toxicity — people aren’t even aware of it,” he said. Although Tashman’s is a small company, he believes that if other small companies like his and big ones like GE are more environmentally conscious, “I think we can inspire people to be aware of what they consume, what they use and how they can live more sustainable lives.”

In the end, the company created longer, high-performance skateboards, tailored for hills or parks or streets or long distances. The skateboards were unlike the other black-topped, fancy logo boards.

“We had no graphics,” Tashman said. “It was the ride first and foremost. Most boards were driven by graphics, and we wanted to separate ourselves.”

Separate the company he has, with clean, bamboo long boards that appeal to 20- to 40-year-olds, as opposed to the “17-year-old male from the O.C.,” Tashman said. The boards sell for $215 to $300 and are sold in about 350 stores nationwide and have been featured in men’s magazines like FHM and Maxim. Loaded is looking into expanding into apparel as well as snowboards, and the prototypes are laying around the office. But the company will always focus on skateboards, Tashman said.

Now that he has established the company for performance-driven boards, Loaded is adding graphics in the form of a bird — a kite to be precise, a kind of a sparrow drawn sparingly in white and gold on the undercarriage of the Vanguard.
“We’re seeing what we can get away with, and where we can go with it,” Tashman said.

Imagine standing on a high wire, suspended midair and bouncing on it. That’s the experience of being on the Vanguard, a long and flexible skateboard designed for stability. There’s a sensation of coiled-up energy, as if the rider is a spring ready to be sprung, an arrow ready to be shot — loaded, like the company name.
For Tashman and his five full-time employees, the key to the business is having fun.

“Stoke ’em,” is part of the company motto, which, Tashman explains, means, “We’re here to get people excited about the underlying excitement, to promote the visceral experience of the flow.”

The flow.

Some people talk about finding meaning in life, and others talk about religion, but for adrenaline junkies, flow is the buzzword. “There is a spiritual thing [about skateboarding] — the flow, the pure exhilaration of the experience.”
Tashman also finds inspiration in Los Angeles’ Jewish community.

“It’s an exciting time to be Jewish in L.A. Jewish culture seems very vibrant — people are excited about their heritage; it’s starting to filter out from New York, and it’s like it never was when I was growing up.”

Tashman admitted it’s unusual to be a religious skateboarder, but he finds similarities between the two worlds.

“My religiosity has existed synergistically with my skateboarding. The visceral sense of flow, the intense personal engagement and the stoke it has generated and allowed me to pass on are enriching. Skateboarding culture has historically exhibited a strong sense of community. Like Judaism, I find that it promotes personal development and environmental awareness,” he said.

Aren’t they so different, these two separate worlds of Jewish life and skateboarding?

“They go hand in hand — a big part of skateboarding is how you present yourself,” he said. In the skateboarding industry there’s always the question of authenticity, whether you’re a “core” company — the rap equivalent of street cred — or an outsider trying to make a buck.

“I’ve always skirted the issue. If I can make people excited, great; if not, OK, I don’t need to classify myself in a group to achieve that,” Tashman said.
And that’s how he feels about religion. He said he’s “traditional, shomer Shabbat” but doesn’t define himself as Orthodox. “I do the things I find meaning in, and I don’t do things I don’t.”

“Both worlds can be alienating, in that myopic, or xenophobic tendencies, tend to miss the broader universalist picture,” he said. “In my opinion, the need to promote in-group behavior at the expense of creativity and exploration is sad. I can’t really be bothered by those approaches — there’s too much fun to be had.”

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home


 

When the doorbell rings at the Cohens’ Pico-Robertson home — or more accurately when the door edges open, since it’s almost never locked — the littlest of Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen’s six kids grab their shoes. If it’s someone dropping off donated food or clothing, they start shlepping things in while the older ones begin sorting and organizing. If it’s someone coming to collect those items, the kids take them through the living room and yard to help them pack up the day’s offerings — unserved food salvaged from caterers; groceries donated by local markets; or furniture, clothing, toys and electronics that the area’s wealthy families don’t want, and that one of the 52 families that depend on the Cohens sorely needs.

The Cohens’ cramped three-bedroom home is the headquarters, warehouse and distribution center for Global Kindness/L.A. Chesed, the network the Cohens founded less than three years ago.

With caring brown eyes peeking out of her broad face, Yaelle, in her late 30s, is a pint-sized Moroccan tornado in bright yellow-and-orange sneakers. In a perpetually hoarse voice, she answers about 35 phone calls a day from donors and people desperate for help.

The Cohens understand desperation. Eight years ago, Nouriel’s beauty supply business went under, and the family had to give up their Beverly Hills home. He hasn’t had steady employment since then and has had to rely on his parents and family to get by.

“But now when you look ahead, you can see that was all for the purpose of good, because we had to really feel what was going on in people’s hearts and minds when they are really down,” says Nouriel, whose distinguished gray beard and smiling blue eyes do little to attest to his Persian ancestry.

The Cohens raise money to help families with rent, bills, day-school tuition or transportation. They help with bar mitzvahs, and have sent families housekeepers and gardeners to restore dignity to rundown homes.

Late every Friday afternoon the family gets a load of challah the kosher bakeries didn’t sell, and the kids, ages 1 through 12, wheel strollers and carts through the neighborhood doling out the loaves.

They host huge Shabbos lunches and singles events and help a handful of families in Canada, New York and Israel.

Often, they become de facto social workers, referring families to resources for abuse, addiction or mental health issues.

The Cohen operation shuts down from 5-8:30 p.m., so the family can have dinner, do homework and get through bedtime. But other than that, they’re on.

And on Chanukah, the Cohens sent their clients’ wish lists to Chabad of Malibu, where families purchased and wrapped the gifts. Those packages were set up in a dream-like display on the ornate furniture left over from wealthier times in the Cohen’s living room/dining room.

Recently, Nouriel started a new business and it seems to be taking off. While he looks forward to giving his family more comfortable quarters, he thanks God for the new sensitivity they have.

“We see what people throw away — thousands and thousands of dollars worth of beautiful clothing,” Nouriel says. “Why would someone throw it away? Because it means nothing. Money comes and goes. The main thing is what you are doing in this life.”

For more information call (310) 286-0800.

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen and family

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Wine, Women, Song


As the daylight hours dwindle down to a precious few, and hurricanes, fires and floods give the distinct feeling that the world is indeed coming to an end, let’s turn our thoughts to two of the things that make so many Jews so happy: wine and Hawaii.

That’s where Judd and Holly Finkelstein come in. The Journal sat with the young couple over coffee at downtown’s Angelique Café, and tried to keep track of their interests and projects.

Judd’s parents, Art and Bunnie, have been making wine in Napa Valley for 25 years, first creating the Whitehall Lane label, then Judd’s Hill. After training as a journalist, that same Judd recognized maybe there’s a reason people dream of retiring to the place he grew up, and he moved back to join the family business.

The family has numerous ties to Los Angeles, and Judd met Holly, a former program officer for the Steven Spielberg Righteous Persons Foundation, on a 2003 visit here.

Now the two form the center of a Jewish-winemaking-experimental-entrepreneurial-Hawaiian music-making community in Napa.

Along with expanding and marketing the critically acclaimed Judd Hill line, the two are marketing Napa Valley Custom MicroCrush. Customers pay to make their own wines, selecting grapes and overseeing the process from picking to labeling.

“Crushing grapes is nasty, grungy work,” Judd said. “It’s barely pleasant.”

MicroCrush customers can have others do this part, but otherwise, for about $20 per bottle, make their oenophiliac dreams come true. The idea sounds prime for a nonprofit group to use as a fundraiser — anyone for a case of ’06 Jewish Family Service Pinot Noir?

When not promoting wine, Holly and Judd perform in a Hawaiian lounge band they created, The Maikai Gents, featuring the Mysterious Miss Mauna Loa. Holly, a trained hula dancer (a.k.a. Miss Mauna Loa), and Judd, an expert on the ukelele, perform at clubs, parties and the rare bar mitzvah in the wine country.

Their new CD, “Wiki Wiki Grog Shop,” will take you back — to somewhere between Kapalua and Trader Vics.

These days, that’s a good place to be.

For more information, visit www.juddshill.com.

 

Create a Bridal Look That’s Made for You


The ornately beaded gown spent decades wrapped in a sheet from the time grandma was a bride until her granddaughter walked down the aisle.

Both brides were beautiful and the dress was a focal point each time, thanks to the loving restoration work by dressmaker Camila Sigelmann, who made it possible for Amee Huppin Sherer to be married in Grandma Marian Huppin’s 1925 wedding gown.

It took Sigelmann about 40 hours and a lot of luck to find beads to match the originals, to repair and reinforce the gown, to make some modifications and to create a matching head piece.

“It was a real honor for me to work on the dress,” Sigelmann said. “I understood that not only was I working on a dress for a very important occasion but that it had a lot of family history. That gives the project a whole other dimension.”

Sigelmann, who teaches apparel design at Seattle Central Community College, has run her own dressmaking business for about six years. She is one of a number of seamstresses across the country who restore antique wedding dresses and create new, custom gowns for brides. Amee found her in the Yellow Pages.

It is a special and honorable profession for the dressmakers who have the opportunity to participate in some of the most joyous moments of family life. They speak of their work with pride and enthusiasm.

Victoria’s Bridal has been in the business for more than 20 years, making everything from contemporary to traditional gowns to theme weddings.

Choosing to have a custom-made wedding dress is more a matter of style and personal service than of price, said Denise Mahmood, store manager of designer Victoria Glenn’s shop Mahmood. She said formal gowns from Victoria’s start at $1,000 and tea length dresses start at $600. Prices vary considerably, however, based on fabric and style. The cost of a custom-made gown includes fittings and alterations, which can cost up to $200 extra when buying a manufactured dress.

Another dressmaker, Laure Rancich-Flem, cautions brides not to look at custom-made gowns as a way to save money.

“If someone comes to me and has found a dress in a magazine … I cannot make it cheaper,” Rancich-Flem said, unless the bride wants to make changes in the dress such as using satin instead of silk.

The dressmaker said the best reason to call a seamstress is because you want a special gown tailored to your body and your taste.

“If you’re going to do custom work it’s usually because you cannot find what you want in ready-to-wear. Maybe you don’t want a traditional gown, or you’re hard to fit … or you just want something very untraditional in fabrics, colors or styling,” Rancich-Flem said.

She recommended trying on some manufactured gowns and looking at bridal magazines before deciding to talk to a dressmaker. A trip to a bridal store will give a woman a chance find out what dress details she likes and what looks good on her.

All three women agreed on suggestions about how to find a custom dressmaker. The first thing to do is ask for recommendations from friends who have had custom gowns made or who have hired a seamstress to create other clothing. Brides without personal recommendations can ask at a fabric store for a list of dressmakers who specialize in bridal gowns.

The next step is to call some dressmakers, talk to them about their experience and see some of their work. This process should start about six months before the wedding.

Mahmood said brides should ask a dressmaker how long she has been in business, how many dresses she averages a month, if she’s overloaded with work and if there are other seamstresses working for her on contract. Ask to see the dressmaker’s portfolio book and some actual dresses she made and request a list of references.

Rancich-Flem said that once you and a dressmaker have talked about the details of your actual project, you should request a bid, including creation and design time and materials cost.

Sigelmann said the dressmaker and the bride, and possibly her mother, need to be able to forge a good personal relationship because they may be working together for up to six months.

Her clients tend to be working women and mature brides who have clear ideas about wanting something a little different in a wedding dress.

The dressmaker found the Huppin gown an interesting challenge; it was also an emotionally and intellectually intriguing project.

“It was a very special dress,” Sigelmann said. “I found myself wondering what her grandma was like and how did she feel when she wore the dress.”

Donna Gordon Blankinship is a freelance writer living in Seattle.

Pacific Mortgage Funding Corporation


As a national commercial real estate lender, Pacific Mortgage Funding Corporation offers a variety of financing options for apartment projects, office buildings, retail shopping centers, hotels, subdivisions, and more. Our commercial real estate lending programs range from fixed to adjustable rate loans, construction loans and/or bridge loans to help facilitate local and national developers, buyers, and investment property owners alike.

Pacific Mortgage Funding Corporation offers direct access to Wall Street, Life Insurance, Pension Funds, FHA / HUD, Fannie Mae, SBA, and both Private & Institutional Equity Investors. Please visit our website today at www.PacificMortgage.com , or call us at (562) 864-4006.

Bayside Mortgage

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Surf City Synagogue

Surf City Synagogue welcomes families seeking a spiritual and educational celebration of Judaism. Serving Huntington Beach and surrounding communities, the Synagogue offers a monthly Family Havurah, commonly held the 2nd Friday of each month, observing Shabbat. The Synagogue is in its final stages of Religious School preparation and is offering programs this fall. The Synagogue will hold High Holy Day Services at the Huntington Beach Central Library. Additional information and tickets are available by calling (714) 596-2220.

Temple Beth El

Temple Beth El of South Orange County is a reform congregation open to individuals, couples and families of all ages. We have a superb staff who are committed to our warm and friendly congregation. Our nationally recognized Jewish Education Program starts with Pre-school and runs through Grade 12. We offer an exceptional Adult Education Program, and teenage Youth Groups. We invite you to join us. We�(tm)re Closer than you THINK.

2A Liberty, Aliso Viejo 949-362-3999.

Quit Staring at My Chest


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To see the line, visit

A Sparkling Life


When Anthony Kantor was orphaned on Russia’s streets a century ago, narrowly escaping the pogroms that killed his family, he couldn’t have imagined that he would one day make his living trading diamonds and other precious stones in downtown Los Angeles.

Nor did the late Kantor, a founding member of Hollywood Temple Beth El and an underwriter of Bais Yaakov High School for Girls, dream of the impact his success in the diamond industry would have for Jews in Los Angeles.

Kantor’s daughter, Irene, son-in-law, Conrad Furlong, and grandson, Aaron Henry Furlong, expanded the business begun by the Russian street child, who closed deals with a handshake and a mazel und brucha (luck and blessing), the traditional closing of a deal in the diamond trade. For the past 35 years, the Furlongs have designed and manufactured high-end jewelry in their Hill Street office tower, located in the heart of Los Angeles’ Diamond District. They are one of many third- and fourth-generation Jewish families who have had a profound impact on the enigmatic and tightly knit jewelry industry.

"Back in my grandfather’s time, the diamond business was almost entirely Jewish," Aaron Furlong said, as he graded small stones. "Mazel was your word, and if you went against it, you were ostracized from the business."

Today, estimates put the number of Jews in the diamond trade at roughly 50 percent. Immigrants from countries like Armenia, Lebanon, Turkey and India have poured into Los Angeles’ diamond center, much like the wave of Eastern European Jews did after World War II.

"Despite the changes," Furlong said, "this industry is still mostly family run. There’s a long-standing code of ethics, and reputation is the only thing that separates the different firms."

The mazel code that Furlong cited — mazal u’bracha in Hebrew, mabruk in Arabic — has guided generations of Jewish diamond families. Accounts date it back to Maimonides, the medieval philosopher who purportedly asked his brother, a precious stones trader, to conclude all of his business dealings with a mazal u’bracha.

Furlong’s father, Conrad, was raised Episcopalian, but converted to Judaism five years before hanging out a shingle in the storeroom of Kantor’s building. Initially spurred on by his marriage to Kantor’s daughter, Irene, his conversion ultimately found a spiritual pitch within his daily life.

Today, Conrad Furlong, one of Los Angeles’ premiere diamond setters, dons his pale blue smock each morning to work at a bench just a few feet from his son. The two employ tools as small and precise as those used in the dental field.

Diamond setters — Jewish or otherwise — only teach the business to their sons and sons-in-law. Conrad Furlong was an exception.

Furlong was able to learn the trade by virtue of Kantor’s industry friendships. During his apprenticeship, he was only allowed to look over a setter’s shoulder and could not say or touch anything. To develop his skills, Furlong built a workbench in his apartment and with fake stones and silver mountings, reproduced everything he saw — from memory.

"When my son was born, I went into business for myself," Conrad Furlong said. "Later, I took my six best employees and moved to Hill Street to do only high line [setting, building and designing high-quality jewelry]." His wife still takes care of the bookkeeping.

Aaron Furlong, who also creates jewelry under the name Aaron Henry Designs, received his graduate gemologist degree at the Gemological Institute of America in Los Angeles. He fabricates intricate gold and platinum mountings with torch and solder.

His love for colored stones — emeralds, sapphires and rubies — has earned him design and manufacturing awards from the American Gem Trade Association, De Beers and other industry organizations.

"I first began separating burrs [tiny texture grinders] in my grandfather’s store when I was 7," Furlong recalled. "That was when the industry was only about five or six buildings on Broadway, not the two dozen on and around Hill Street it is today. The diamond dealers would join together after work to drink whiskey," he said. "They’d walk around with parcels of stones worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and do deals in the elevators."

The grandson, who was raised Conservative, takes pride in the Jewish legacy his industry has fostered and in the reputation his family has achieved.

"Things like ‘blood diamonds’ [stones Angolan rebels sold to the diamond trade to finance their terror campaigns] and the harsh checks De Beers imposed on miners years ago to prevent smuggling have made the industry police itself," Furlong explained. "We do background checks on all our suppliers" he said. "And I’ve visited one of our dealer’s cutting centers in India to affirm the working conditions with my own eyes."

To ensure their stones are "clean" or legitimate, the Furlongs belong to the American Gem Society and the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, groups devoted to upholding industry ethics. "Anyone running afoul of watchdogs like the Diamond Council will have a hard time surviving in this business," the grandson stressed.

A diamond’s journey from mine to showroom is a convoluted one. Global conglomerates own the mines and offer site-holders, of which there are about 80 to 120 worldwide, the ability to purchase raw stones, called "roughs."

Site-holders transport the roughs to cutting centers. Manufacturers like the Furlongs buy parcels of cut stones directly from site holders and sell the finished pieces they’ve created from them to wholesalers and retailers. Because the mines for colored stones are less controlled and scattered throughout the globe, supplies come directly from the mines or the cutters.

"If there is a cornerstone of Judaism in this business," Furlong said, "it’s the diamond cutters and brokers. They come from Tel Aviv, New York and South Africa and meet at the Diamond Club down the hall. That group speaks with a unified voice for L.A.’s Diamond District."

Irene Furlong, now in her mid-50s, hasn’t known any other life but gems and diamonds. Her childhood was spent in her father’s showroom, "shooting marbles" with his inventory of pearls.

"Everything is done with memos [written receipts for loose stones] these days, and we’ve lost many of the old traditions," she said wistfully.

"I remember one client we had who had a three-band Pavee ring and was stung by a bee," she recalled. "The paramedics couldn’t cut the ring off through the diamonds, so they called Conrad, who takes the jobs no one else can do. He went to the ER and removed each stone from its setting. The whole time, the client’s husband was yelling: ‘Be careful. Don’t damage the diamonds!’"

In a luxury industry that generated more than $42 billion in jewelry and watch sales in the U.S. last year and $54 billion in worldwide diamond sales alone, the Furlongs, like many other diamond industry families, are reluctant to draw too much attention. In Los Angeles’ Diamond District, uniformed and undercover police patrols keep a close watch on area.

"The Jewish immigrants who built this business came from very harsh backgrounds, and were attracted to the beauty of precious stones and gems," Aaron Furlong said.

"They were multifaceted people," he said, smiling at the pun. "As it was in my grandfather’s time, 50 years ago, this business is a blend of instinct, engineering and art."

"It doesn’t matter if it’s diamonds or colored stones," he continued. "The challenge is to build a luxury piece that’s timeless and beautiful. And to conduct your business in an honorable way" — with a mazel und brucha, as Kantor would say.


David Geffner can be contacted
at liturkfilm@earthlink.net

.

Kiss and Sell


Lead in by a uniformed maid, Michele Bohbot glides into the
marbled entrance hall of her Beverly Hills mansion with her long, dark hair
swaying and her tall, well-toned body suggesting a balletic athleticism. She
wears elegant casual clothes that she designed herself — loose green linen
pants and a laurel-colored ruffled tank top — and her French accent completes
this portrait of chic.

But Bohbot is far from a European dilettante. The
43-year-old mother of seven (ages 21 to 5) is the president and sole designer
of Bisou Bisou, a global fashion line she started herself in 1989 that now
takes in more than $80 million in annual sales, a figure expected to increase
following an exclusive distribution deal with JCPenney. She also teaches yoga at
her home, is writing her autobiography and bakes her own challah for Shabbat.

“Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, but when that happens, I try
to reorganize and to understand why I am feeling that way,” Bohbot told The
Journal in an interview punctuated by several visits from her young, redheaded
children. “But I am not the kind of person who thinks too much. I just do it
and say ‘next,’ so there is no waste of time. And I enjoy everything that I’m
doing, and when you have this philosophy, everything comes more easily.”

Bohbot was born in Morocco and moved to Paris as a teenager.
She studied philosophy and law at the Sorbonne University, and when she was 19,
she married her husband, Marc, who proposed to her four days after they met. It
was in Paris that Bohbot got her start in fashion. She and Marc owned three
retail stores, which Michele managed. “Each store had its own story,” she said.
“It was a lot of work, because I was not running a chain or something generic,
but I learned a lot of different aspects of the business.”

In 1987, the Bohbots moved to Los Angeles, where Marc had a
business selling French jeans. The business failed, the

Bohbots lost everything, and Marc wanted to move back to
France.

“I didn’t want to go back,” said Bohbot, who left France
partly because of perceived anti-Semitism there. (Although Bohbot calls herself
“traditional,” Marc is religious and the family keeps Shabbat and kosher and
attends services at Baba Sale.) “I liked it here. I liked the blue sky –  it
reminded me of Morocco, and no way was I going to go back to France with less
than I had. I said [to Marc], ‘If you want to go back, go. I’m staying here.'”

Wanting to secure a place for herself in Los Angeles, and
very much wanting her husband to join her in a business, Bohbot decided that
she was going to start her own design collection. She knew something about
designing, but was ignorant of sewing and the construction of a garment. She
also didn’t know how to speak English very well. Undaunted, she collected
$6,000, teamed up with the main seamstress from her husband’s defunct jeans
business (who, in a fortuitous move, had negotiated to keep one of the sewing
machines), bought some fabric from a retail store, rented space in a small
studio and started making clothes. “I was in business without even knowing what
I was doing,” she said. “I had this woman working with me without even knowing
how I was going to pay her.”

After three weeks, Bohbot had her first Bisou Bisou (French
slang for “small kiss”) collection and though, by her own admission, she was a
very shy person, she summoned the courage to start hawking the garments to
boutiques on Melrose. The clothes sold out, but by that time she was pregnant
with her fourth child and was reluctant to continue designing because she knew how
much time it would take away from her family. It was a salesperson in a
boutique who convinced her to carry on, telling Bohbot how quickly her clothes
had sold, and how much the customers loved them.

The secret to her success was in the clothes. “My clothes
advantage the body of a woman,” Bohbot said. “They are sexy, young, playful and
elegant at the same time. Usually they are easy to travel with, and they don’t
require much maintenance or ironing, because I think it has to be comfortable.”

Bisou Bisou became a Bohbot family business. Marc is the
chairman/CEO, whereas Bohbot continues to do all of the designing. (“It is so
easy for me to design,” she said. “I can create 600 styles in a month. I love
it. I cannot stop.”) Recently, the couple signed a deal with to have Bisou
Bisou clothes sold exclusively at JCPenney stores, a move that is estimated to
boost Bisou Bisou coffers by some $500 million over five years (JCPenney is
manufacturing the clothes).

“I am very happy about this deal, because it gives me an
opportunity to dress more of the women at an affordable price,” Bohbot said.
“The consumer is smart enough to know that she doesn’t have to spend so much to
wear avant-garde, fashionable clothes.”  

Stanley Hirsh, Journal Publisher, Dies at 76


Stanley Hirsh, the imposing philanthropist, real estateinvestor and garment manufacturer as renown for his blunt-spoken style as hiscontributions to Jewish and political causes, died at his Studio City homeMarch 22 after a two-year battle with brain cancer. He was 76.

The mourners who gathered at his funeral at WilshireBoulevard Temple and Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries on Wednesdayremembered Hirsh as a man of contrasts: tough but fair, prickly butcompassionate.

“This was a really opinionated, obstinate guy,” said FrankMaas, secretary of The Jewish Federation. “And yet, he was the most generousman when he saw a person in trouble.”

“He was a taskmaster, but he cared about social justice,”said Rabbi Harvey Fields, who officiated at the funeral. “He felt aresponsibility that I think grew out of his Depression-era childhood ofexperiencing need and others in need.”

During Journal interviews, others described Hirsh as a manwho could be relentless in pursuing business and charitable goals, but whoserved as confidante and counselor to his employees, some of whom he helpedstart their own businesses.

A tall, muscular chain-smoker with fiercely intelligent blueeyes, Hirsh, a Jewish Federation past president, was also a maverickphilanthropist. “He was a doer, and he didn’t always worry about the communalniceties,” Federation President John Fishel said.

Arthur Laub, honorary vice president of Jewish FamilyService (JFS), described how his close friend Hirsh used to telephone JFS’sexecutive director at the end of each fiscal year. “He’d say, ‘Are you short?’and they were always short, and then he’d give them the money, whether it was$40,000 or $100,000,” Laub, 84, said. “Stanley got things done, and he did themhis way.”

Bronx-bred Hirsh, the son of a gas station owner, demonstratedthat independent streak early on. “He wasn’t the easiest candidate for his barmitzvah,” said his wife, Anita, Hirsh’s partner in philanthropy. “His Orthodoxrabbi threw him out, and his parents had to find a rabbi who could wranglehim.”

When that clergyman gave him a pushke to collect money forsettlers in then-Palestine, a philanthropist was born. “I took one of thoselittle blue cans and walked around the Bronx,” he told the Los Angeles Times in1992. “It was my first taste of going out and raising money — nickels and dimesand pennies…. They just asked that you bring the box back full.”

As a teenager, Hirsh dropped out of school and went to workto help support his family, which relocated to California when he was 14. Hecarried bricks and mortar at a Long Beach shipyard “until they found out he wasunderage,” Anita Hirsh said. Eventually, he finished high school while servingin the Navy, where his fellow recruits’ anti-Semitism “clinched his being a Jewforever,” his wife said.

After his stint in the military, Hirsh signed on as anassistant store manager for the women’s clothing manufacturer House of Nine;eight years later, he began his own apparel manufacturing company with apartner.

After marrying Anita, a clothing designer, in 1961, hisbusiness expanded rapidly; eventually the couple purchased six commercialbuildings in the downtown garment district, including the landmark CooperBuilding.

Steve Hirsh, 48, recalled how his father, an avid amateurplumber and electrician, did much of the initial work on those buildings, earlyLos Angeles skyscrapers, himself. “He’d go down with a screwdriver in hand andfix things,” he said.

On weekends, Hirsh’s four children were expected to helpwith chores at their Studio City home and 6-acre ranch, where Hirsh lovedtinkering with his yellow Case tractor. “We all held the flashlight while dadwas fixing things, and that’s how we learned,” his daughter, Jennifer, 33,said.

While Steve Hirsh hated the chores as a teenager, “therecollections are now sweet,” he told The Journal. “In retrospect, they seemlike some of the most important times I spent with my father.”

Stanley Hirsh’s pro-Israel activities date from 1967 and theSix-Day War, which “really got me off my butt,” he told the Times.

Four years later, his political involvement began when,dissatisfied with governance while serving on a homeowner’s group, he ran forthe Los Angeles City Council. He lost.

“But he was the first to endorse me during the runoffs,”former City Councilman Joel Wachs said. “Thereafter, he served as my campaigntreasurer and he was my best supporter for 30 years…. But he never soughtpublic attention for what he was doing; he worked behind the scenes.”

Along the way, Hirsh entered the world of large-scale politicalgiving, including organizing a 1976 fundraiser for Howard M. Metzenbaum, then aDemocratic Senate candidate from Ohio, according to the Times. Hirsh went on tosponsor events for 1988 vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen, Sen. CarlLevin (D-Michigan) and others who often shared his liberal, pro-Israel ideals.

“He could pick up the phone and call 20 senators,” Rep.Howard Berman (D-28th District) said. “He was viewed as an important resourcenationally.”

Hirsh was also viewed as an important resource in Israel,where the mayor of Tel Aviv once took him to an impoverished community calledAjami in the mid-1980s. When the mayor said the area wasn’t receiving attentionbecause it was predominantly Arab, the Hirshes put up the money to build anearly childhood development center.

Back at home, Hirsh served as Federation president andUnited Jewish Fund general campaign chair (1984-1985), and “he set a precedentby becoming the first half-million dollar giver,” according to Laub.

When The Federation’s kosher meals program for seniors wasjeopardized by problematic outside caterers around 1992, Hirsh again steppedforward. “He said, ‘Look, I’m going to build you a kitchen,'” JFS ExecutiveDirector Paul Castro recalled. A $650,000 initial grant helped build thestate-of-the-art Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen on Fairfax Avenue, which providesmeals to homebound seniors and to 12 senior meal sites around Los Angeles.

According to Anita Hirsh, one of her husband’s favoriteroles in recent years was serving as publisher of The Jewish Journal of GreaterLos Angeles. Hirsh took on the position after the 1997 death of previousJournal publisher Edwin Brennglass.

“He was a good steward, because the newspaper is bettertoday than it was when he became the publisher,” said Irwin S. Field, chairmanof the board of Los Angeles Jewish Publications, the corporation that owns TheJournal. “Our move toward Conejo, the West Valley and Orange County was theresult of the thinking process that he brought about, which was to reach morereaders in Southern California.”

“The Journal grew significantly under Stanley’s leadership,”said Robert Eshman, The Journal’s editor-in-chief. “He wanted a paper that wastough, fair and compassionate — the same mixture of qualities he displayed.”

As Maas said just before Hirsh’s funeral, “Stanley could betough, but if there was a human issue, he was on it.”

Stanley Hirsh is survived by his wife, Anita; his children,Steve (Pam), Adam, Jennifer and Liz (Yehuda) Naftali; four grandchildren, andthree nieces and nephews and their spouses: Cathy and Larry Ross, Karyn andJason Newman, and Jeff and Beth Cohen and their children.

The family requests that donations in Hirsh’s memory be madeto Jewish Family Service. Mail to Jewish Family Service, attention: PaulCastro, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite. 500, Los Angeles, CA 90048. For questions,call (323) 761-8800. 

Crisis Manager


On March 11, Paul S. Nussbaum trudged down the driveway in
his bathrobe, picked up the Los Angeles Times and headed back into his house —
part of his early morning routine. Moments later his wife handed him a fruit
protein shake, he cracked open the paper and pulled out the business section.

Nussbaum was “astounded and dumbfounded” by what he saw.
Under a headline that read, “Wells Refuses Belgium Claim,” Nussbaum learned
that Wells Fargo & Co. said it would not contribute $267,000 to a war
reparations fund for Belgian Jews, making it the only financial institution of
22 banks named in the $59 million settlement to balk at paying. Wells Fargo
argued that it had no legal obligation, because it had inherited the liability
through its acquisition of a small Belgium bank.

For Nussbaum, the son of two Holocaust survivors, the bank’s
actions came as a double shock. For one thing, Wells Fargo had cultivated a
great deal of good will in the Jewish community by contributing hundreds of
thousands of dollars to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Family Service
(JFS) and other Jewish organizations. For another, Nussbaum, 46, is senior vice
president for Wells Fargo in Beverly Hills.

Turning to his wife, Nussbaum said: “The bank has done
something incredibly stupid that I have to deal with.”

And he did.

A day later, after a barrage of calls by Nussbaum to senior
executives at Wells Fargo and Jewish leaders, the bank said it would pay the
reparations. In a statement, Wells Fargo Chief Executive Dick Kovacevich
apologized to the Jewish community and called the Holocaust “the worst form of
discrimination and violation of human rights.”

The bank’s quick reversal probably minimized long-term
damage to its business interests and reputation. It also reflected the
crisis-management skills of Nussbaum, a Jewish philanthropist who has spent
much of his corporate career guiding organizations through roiled waters.

Although they sometimes cause him sleepless nights and an
upset stomach, difficult times bring out Nussbaum’s most analytical and
creative side, he said. Like a general calmly barking orders as bullets whiz
by, Nussbaum said he becomes ever more focused in a crisis, when his
“just-fix-it” personality kicks in.

During his career, he has helped clean up the portfolio of a
faltering savings in loan, put in 80-hour weeks to help Orange County tame its
budget to emerge from bankruptcy and single-handedly revived Wells Fargo’s
regional commercial banking office on the Westside.

In 1984, Nussbaum joined American Savings & Loan, just
as panicky investors had withdrawn $6.8 billion in one of the biggest bank runs
in history. Over the next five years, Nussbaum, working in conjunction with
then-American Savings CEO William J. Popejoy, helped the institution collect as
much as possible on its bad loans and remove them from the company’s books.
Nussbaum said his efforts saved taxpayers billions.

Later, he joined Wells Fargo. In 1995, the bank gave him a
paid leave so that he could serve as an adviser to his mentor Popejoy, then-CEO
of bankrupt Orange County. At first viewed suspiciously as a Popejoy lackey,
Nussbaum won over a lot of skeptics with his long hours and dedication toward
making the county solvent, experts said.

Nussbaum was part of a group of officials who slashed the
county’s budget 41 percent.  Although Nussbaum left after only five months,
Popejoy said, “I don’t think anyone made a bigger contribution that helped the
county regain its footing. Paul was one of the unsung heroes.”

Four years ago, Wells Fargo asked Nussbaum to reopen a
commercial banking office in Beverly Hills that had been shuttered during an
earlier consolidation. Starting from scratch, he has built a team of 16 people
and increased by fourfold the number of Wells Fargo loans to Westside companies
and individuals.

“I think Paul has done an exemplary job of establishing us
in a market we had tried to break into in the past but had been largely
unsuccessful,” said Paul Watson, Wells Fargo head of commercial and corporate
banking. “He’s a good banker and very involved with the community. When you put
that together, you have a successful formula.”

Nussbaum’s commitment to business is matched only by his
community activism. A board member at JFS, the Wiesenthal Center and Stephen S.
Wise Temple, he has encouraged Wells Fargo to donate hundreds of thousands of
dollars to those and other groups, including $150,000 this year to JFS.

Mark Berns, past president of Stephen S. Wise, said Nussbaum
makes contributions to the temple, both big and small. Recently, Nussbaum volunteered
to cook food all afternoon “over hot flames and in the sun” at a Purim festival
that raised $40,000, Berns said.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, has known
Nussbaum for seven years. He said the banker’s efforts to coax Wells Fargo to
pay the reparations reflect Nussbaum’s deep commitment to Jewish values.

“I think he saved the bank a lot of heartache by making such
a big fuss,” Hier said. “He did the right thing.” 

Do Jewish Schools Make Good Neighbors?


Every Jewish school should have a neighbor like Scott Meller of Feldmar Watch & Clock Center.

The Pico-Robertson business, which has been around for over 40 years, is located directly across from the Chabad educational institutions on Pico Boulevard (Bais Chana School for Girls, Bais Rebbe Junior High and Bais Chaya Muska Elementary School). "They’re great," said Meller, whose family owns Feldmar. "It’s nice because the whole area is affected by the fact that the schools are there. It brings people to the neighborhood so the property value increases. They’re good as neighbors."

Meller doesn’t bat an eye when discussing the big hole in the ground across the street — otherwise known as the future Bais Sonya Gutte campus — where an additional school building is under construction. When it’s completed, it will house the high school, junior high and elementary students, as well as the children at the Gan Israel/Garden Preschool, whose facility is down the street. Traffic is a concern, Meller conceded, but on the whole he wasn’t bothered.

"We’ve always had a nice relationship with the neighborhood," said Rabbi Danny Yiftach, the school’s administrator. When local residents expressed worries about traffic and parking, they decided to build two subterranean floors in the new building for extra parking, Yiftach said.

Local schools are anything but a deterrent for those interested in the community, said Meredith Michen of Landmark Realtors, which services the Pico-Robertson area. "Most of the people who move to that area think it’s a good thing to have the schools there," said Michen, adding that Pico-Robertson real estate prices are affected by demand, not by the schools in the area.

But not all Jewish schools are as fortunate. For Jewish parents, who often seek out a particular neighborhood just to be closer to a day school to send their children, sometimes there is such a thing as too close. Issues such as construction, noise, traffic, parking and environmental concerns cause residents to wonder: do Jewish schools make good neighbors?

Currently, the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West campus sits on a rented hillside property in Agoura Hills. In a plan to expand the school, Heschel West purchased 70 acres off of Chesboro Road in Agoura Hills five years ago. Throughout the permit process, the school board received concern from local residents who live in an area known for its open space and semirural environment.

Jess Thomas, president of the Old Agoura Hills Homeowners Association, is opposed to the project, because he said that the scope of the project has increased over time. "They said they were going to build a smaller school in the back of the canyon and away from the homes and the number of students they were talking about didn’t seem like a problem," he said. Because of the large number of additional students, Thomas feels that the amount of traffic will overwhelm the streets’ capacity in the surrounding area.

"We’ve put a fair amount of time into addressing the neighbors’ concerns," said Brian Greenberg, Heschel West’s school board chairman. Greenberg plans to stagger school hours so as not to overlap with traffic from other local schools. In addition, Heschel West has changed their proposed placement of the new school’s entryway three times to accommodate the neighbors’ preferences.

Over in West Hills, the New Community Jewish High School opened its doors this September inside the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Center. Head of School Dr. Bruce Powell, who was responsible for opening both Yeshiva University Los Angeles High School and Milken Community High School, said that local residents were supportive.

Powell, who owns a consulting company, Jewish School Management, which helps open Jewish schools around the country, is only too familiar with neighborhood complaints. "Neighbors see the word ‘school’ and think the [students] are going to be rowdy like any other high school kids," said Powell, who has broken up only two fights in his 23 years in the field. "First of all, [these students are] at a Jewish school. They care about education. We’ve got ninth-graders here taking 10 classes. They’re serious, college-bound kids." Powell feels the school has a responsibility to educate the neighborhood as such.

Before Yavneh Hebrew Academy moved into their Hancock Park neighborhood four years ago, finding a home in the former Whittier Law School building on Third Street, locals filed lawsuits with worries of noise and traffic — but that was then. "Our neighbors have thanked us," said Headmaster Rabbi Moshe Dear, who attributes the positive relationship to mutual cooperation. Making accommodations like quiet hours and rules for carpooling to ease traffic problems has earned Yavneh respect.

While there are some people who feel that living near a school is a drawback to community living, others find a sense of security in education. Ira Sherak, 32, said that when he decides to purchase a house in Los Angeles someday, he does not want to live within a one-block radius of a public high school. When it comes to Jewish institutions, the Brentwood renter is less wary. "A Jewish school is a private school, so you know it’s not that bad," said the New Jersey native. "[The students] are not generally hanging out and looking for trouble."

Above all, local Jewish educators seem to agree that developing good neighbor relationships means practicing what one preaches. "As a Jewish school we want to teach good values and mitzvot," Dear said. "And part of that means we should be good neighbors."

Heschel West’s administrators expressed similar sentiments. "Our philosophy is commitment to Jewish learning and internalizing Judaic values. Part of our community outreach is to go out in the community and befriend them," said principal Jan Saltsman. Greenberg agreeed. "My sense is that since we’re a religious school, we’re going to be more sensitive to being good neighbors."

In Community We Trust


Alex Mylyavsky had been in Los Angeles for three months as a refugee from Kiev, Ukraine. He was looking for a job, but it was a vicious cycle: he couldn’t get a job without experience, but how could he get experience without a job? His heavy Russian accent worked against him, and he had no contacts in the business world. In addition, Mylyavsky knew he needed further education to advance.

For Mylyavsky, help arrived in the form of loans from the Jewish Free Loan Association of Los Angeles (JFLA). Founded as the Hebrew Free Loan in 1904 by 10 local businessmen, the nonsectarian, nonprofit organization was based on the biblical imperative of interest-free lending to those in need: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor with you, you shall not be to them as a creditor” (Exodus 22:24). Although the nature of “need” has changed over the years, the concept behind JFLA remains the same.

“The Torah [exhorts] us to perform acts of lovingkindness,” said Evelyn Schecter, JFLA’s director of development. “Interest-free loans allow an individual to be independent and not have to receive charity. These are human beings who need help, and if they have the courage to walk through that door, we’re going to do whatever we can to get them the help they need.”

The actual process of obtaining a loan through JFLA is simple. It begins with an initial intake call to explain the purpose of the loan, the amount and other details. Next is a visit to JFLA’s offices to fill out paperwork and meet with a loan analyst. Some loans are restricted, while others serve a broad-based population — emergency loans of $1,500 to $2,000 are available to anyone, but student or adoption loans are available only to the Jewish community. All loans require one or two co-signers, with a portion of the principal to be paid back on a monthly basis. If the required criteria are met, the applicant may receive a loan within a week, sometimes sooner. The success of the program is borne out by a default rate of less than 1 percent.

Mylyavsky was lucky. Encouraged by his mentor and new employer, attorney Alan Rosen, Mylyavsky decided to enroll in a dual master’s program at Hebrew Union College’s School of Jewish Communal Service and USC’s School of Public Administration. His dream was to work with and for people and to learn more about what it meant to be a Jew.

The next step was securing a loan. Without one, graduate school was out of the question. Rosen agreed to co-sign the loan, and Mylyavsky met with Mark Meltzer, CEO and executive director of JFLA.

Mylyavsky said Meltzer played a key role in his loan saga. “It’s not only help to get a loan, it’s helping the individual to get financial stability, helping for this individual to be recognized by others by achieving successes,” he said. “In turn, by paying back the loan, this individual is making it possible for others who come later to receive a loan.”

“What we have at JFLA is a recycling of dollars,” Meltzer said. “The donors like it; the borrowers like it. The money is not lost in one gift; it keeps rotating around.”

After receiving his dual master’s in 1992, Mylyavsky worked with a company focused on international business. But in 1997, a friend approached him with an idea for a new business venture: state-sponsored adult day care. He knew by reading the brochure that this program was his dream come true: to give people the opportunity to be less isolated, to assist in the health of the elderly and to bring the immigrant community together.

The costs for this kind of program were enormous. For Mylyavsky to find the proper building and bring it up to code, not to mention hiring a large staff and providing transportation, would cost a fortune. But Mylyavsky didn’t hesitate to call JFLA.

In 1999, he received $20,000 — the largest amount for a business loan — to be paid off in monthly installments of $400 over 50 months. In June 1999, the building, newly renovated by Mylyavsky and his partners, was licensed by the state. By July, Universal Adult Day Health Care was open for business. The center was the first of its kind in the area, serving the immigrant populations of Marina del Rey, Santa Monica and Culver City.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I could have made it without JFLA,” Mylyavsky said, shaking his head. “In my case, without financial assistance, it was a ‘mission impossible.’ With JFLA, the mission became possible.”

For Ella Mirmova, also fromKiev, education wasn’t the issue. Few people could make clothes the way Mirmova could, but women from Beverly Hills didn’t like to travel to Hollywood, where she worked. The money she made from her home-based alteration business barely covered her expenses, and she had a mother and a young daughter to support. She worked as hard as she could, but it was never enough to move her business to where the customers were.

After four long years of working out of her home, a friend told Mirmova about JFLA’s business loans. The idea appealed to Mirmova; she would never take charity, but a loan was different.

“I was so sure I could do my business,” Mirmova recalled. “If I was not sure, I would never have tried to make a loan. I am a very responsible person. I had no other choice. I had no husband. I was a single mother. I did what I had to do.”

Mirmova was startled by JFLA’s quick response when it agreed to loan her $12,000.

Mirmova benefited from a concept called donor-directed loans that began in the early 1990s, part of an effort by Meltzer and his board of directors to modernize the agency. Instead of giving money generically, donors could choose programs that excited them or that they wished to create.

“What began to emerge was different donors who had specific interests,” Meltzer explained. “People like Newton Becker, who set up the Becker graduate student loan fund; the Baran family established the Baran small business loan fund because they were given a loan when their family first came here; David and Sylvia Weisz started the Entrepreneurial Loan Fund for young people who wanted to go into business with only an idea.” (See sidebar at left for list of donor-directed programs.)

The success of donor-directed funds during the past 10 years is reflected in the devoted core of supporters the organization enjoys. In addition, JFLA is a beneficiary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the United Way, and various government grants. In 1999, public support and revenues amounted to $1.5 million dollars. Adding to that, recycled money — “accounts receivable” — coming back to the agency brought the total amount of loans going out into the community to $3.5 million out of total assets of $5 million, covering 1,200 loans that year. Today, JFLA’s assets stand at more than $7 million.

The history of Jewish Los Angeles unfolds in the minutes of the Hebrew Free Loan. In 1904, Eastern European Jews needed a jump-start on their new lives; loans were given for a sewing machine, a horse and cart, a paper route. By 1929, the organization was booming — loans had increased to a whopping $150 each. But by 1932, overwhelmed by the Depression, the agency had to whittle back loans to $75 for “those in dire need.”

In 1948, after years of takeover threats by larger social service agencies, the Hebrew Free Loan merged with the Jewish Loan and Housing Association to become the JFLA. Today, with a full-time staff of eight, the agency is considered one of the smallest Jewish social service agencies in town. In terms of scope,however, it’s one of the biggest: In its 97-year history, JFLA has reached out to more than 300,000 individuals and families.

Except for the amount, Mirmova’s loan was not so different from the first loans that came out of the Hebrew Free Loan at the beginning of the 20th century.

Mirmova put the money to work immediately, renting space in Beverly Hills, purchasing professional sewing machines, irons, hangers and equipment for steaming.

“I opened my business in a store with wide-open windows,” Mirmova said proudly. “Everyone from the street could see me work. The people started to come.”

As Mirmova is the first to point out, it wasn’t the windows that made her business successful. She has a talent for fitting few in the profession can match.

“I am the fitter here,” Mirmova said, putting the finishing touches on a vintage gown. “I work to make any figure better-looking. There’s no school for what I do — only emotion. I just feel it.”

Since Mirmova received her loan six years ago, she has paid it off, adding small donations to help others when she can. Her business, Modern Alterations in Beverly Hills, has grown tenfold. On any given day, her phone rings off the hook, and three to eight seamstresses work like whirling dervishes to fulfill a bursting schedule of alterations.

“JFLA gave me the chance, and I used this chance the best I could,” Mirmova said. “I will appreciate this for the rest of my life.”

If you had told Neal and Jennifer Geller eight years ago that they would be the first family to apply to the JFLA’s Lerner Family Adoption Loan program — started in 1997 to assist couples who wish to adopt or undergo fertility treatments — they would have looked at you as if you were a little crazy. It never crossed their minds that they would need help when it came to having children.

The Gellers, who married in 1993, were part of that privileged class of individuals who believed that by working hard and applying themselves, they could accomplish anything they set out to do. But they were left feeling frustrated and powerless after spending thousands on fertility treatments after they were unable to conceive. “All I wanted was to be a mom,” Jennifer said. “Was that too much to ask?”

After thousands of dollars out of pocket and two years of nonstop doctor’s appointments and treatments, the Gellers were emotionally and financially spent. They stopped the infertility roller coaster and decided to adopt.

“I felt better after making the decision. Now I had a purpose, a goal,” Jennifer said. “I’m a very goal-oriented person.”

The Gellers had started the process of adopting internationally when an adoption facilitator called them from New Mexico.

“I know you’re waiting for Romania,” the facilitator said, “but a young birth mother came to see me, and I have a really good feeling about her. Do you want me to submit your résumé?” (In private adoptions, birth mothers will read over several résumés to choose the parents.)

One morning the Gellers received a phone call from the facilitator saying she had someone who wanted to talk to them. Both Gellers sat at the speakerphone and listened while a squeaky young voice came over the receiver, “Hi,” she said. “Will you be the parents of my baby?” They didn’t hesitate: “Yes,” they both sobbed.

The Gellers were ecstatic, calling relatives and friends to tell them that they were going to be parents. But they would need money — and a lot of it — almost immediately. A typical domestic adoption through an agency or lawyer can cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Jennifer called the National Adoption Agency in Washington, who referred them to a woman in Northern California. This woman had grants for adoptions, but only for Northern Californians. Then the woman asked if they were Jewish. She knew an agency in Los Angeles that gave loans to people for adoption.

The next day the Gellers called JFLA. Schecter was enthusiastic, and “the ball rolled.”

“It happened so fast we couldn’t believe it,” Jennifer said. “No doubt, if it wasn’t for JFLA, we would have had to take a second [mortgage] on our house.”

“It wasn’t like a bank,” Neal recalled. “They trusted us; here was somebody who cared.”

Six months after they brought their son Adam home from the hospital, Schecter invited them to the annual JFLA fundraiser dinner to talk about their experience. Admiring donors held baby Adam, who slept through the speeches like a perfect little gentleman. Since then, 14 other adoptions have taken place, including one by a gay couple, plus two in-vitro fertilizations, aided by JFLA’s adoption loan program.

“Before, I was outside the club,” Jennifer said. “Now, I feel like a mom. We worship the ground Adam walks on. We wanted him so much!”

The Gellers are up for another first with the agency. If a private adoption comes through, they will be the first couple to apply to JFLA for a second adoption loan.

“What is need?” Meltzer asked, responding to a common misperception that Jewish people don’t need financial aid. “People come in with a need. It could be an Orthodox couple making good money but they have six children and one of them needs braces. … They wouldn’t be able to get help from any other source. Or a child with potential wants to go to a private college, but his parents are already paying for two other children. They may be well off but can’t afford the $35,000 a year for tuition. Why shouldn’t that child realize his potential?”

“We fool ourselves into thinking Jews today don’t need money,” Schecter added. “There is always the working poor, struggling from paycheck to paycheck, especially among the immigrant populations. By offering loans without interest, individuals maintain their dignity. They repay their loans, and they have accomplished something, and we have accomplished something.”

Reflecting on this accomplishment, Schecter displayed a stack of thank-you letters the organization receives yearly for their services. Some are typed, but a majority are written on special stationery in meticulous handwriting.

“Without JFLA, I have no idea how I would have gotten through all the hardships I’ve faced in the last two years,” one loan recipient confided. “Thank you for being there to catch me when I fell.”

JFLA Loans

The JFLA administers a growing number of donor-directed loan funds. Four officers handle these loans: Danielle Walsmith, undergraduate and graduate student loans and Israel experience; Evelyn Schecter, camp loans, adoption, and women and children in crisis; Sion Abrams, emergency loans; and Mark Meltzer, business loans.

Max Anna Baran Small Business Loan Fund

Weisz Family Entrepreneurial Loan fund

Sylvia David I.A. Fine Business Fund

Edward Meltzer Student Loan Fund for Undergraduate Students

Newton D. Rochelle F. Becker Graduate Student Loan Fund

Morris Doberne Campership Experience Loan Fund

Women Children in Crisis Loan fund

Lerner Family Adoption Assistance Fund

Kopelove Family Short-Term Home Healthcare Loan Fund

Iranian Emigre Loan Fund

Soviet Emigre Loan Fund

Rosslyn Katherine Gaines Loan Fund for Hearing ;Impaired Students

Newton D. Rochelle F. Becker Israel Experience Loan Fund

James Spada Loan fund for Persons with AIDS

ORT Student Loan Fund

Autistic Developmentally Disabled Childrens Loan Fund

The Jewish Free Loan Association is located in the Jewish Federation Building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 715, Los Angeles, CA 90048. For more information on obtaining a loan, call (323) 761-8830 or (818) 464-3331.

Ask Yourself God’s Questions


When we arrive in heaven, the Talmudic sages wondered, what will God ask of us?

This is not really a question about heaven. It is about how we live and how we locate eternity within life. The philosopher Franz Rosensweig explained that on Yom Kippur we are offered a look at our lives through the eyes of eternity. From that perspective, what do we amount to? What’s real? What’s important? What matters?

God asks four questions:

Kavata itim L’Torah? Do you set aside time for learning Torah?

Torah is not only a book, a scroll in the ark. Torah is a process. Torah is the eternal conversation among generations of Jewish thinkers and dreamers — sharing their perceptions of life’s true purpose, of God’s presence, of life’s beauty. When we study Torah, we join the conversation.

In nature, biologist Lewis Thomas writes, there is no such thing as “an ant.” It is the same with Jews. Jews come with ancestors and descendants — a community spanning generations. What binds us together is our shared wisdom, our Torah. To learn Torah is to enter the eternal Jewish conversation. So God asks, Kavata itim L’Torah? Did you find time for Torah?

Asakta B’priya U’reviah? Do you devote yourself to family?

God is shrewd. God doesn’t ask: Did you learn Torah? God asks: Did you establish a time for study? Did you have control over your time, over your life? And if you didn’t, who did? Where did your time go?

God doesn’t ask: Did you love your family? Did you provide for your children? God asks: Asakta, from the Hebrew esek, business: Was family your preoccupation? Did you invest yourself in family?

In family there is immortality. Our children represent our reach into eternity. They carry our names, our values and dreams. But only if we invest our time in them, to teach them and share with them. Did you make time for family?

Nasata B’emunah? Do you do business with integrity?

This is the most surprising of the questions. We expect questions about Torah and family. We might also expect a question about charity, about ritual, about supporting the community. Where is immortality found? In the world of business. Because in my study, in my den, over my breakfast table, in my deepest thoughts, I’m a moral hero. It’s easy to be a moral hero — a tzadik — in theory. Deep in our hearts, every one of us thinks we’re a good, well-meaning person. The question is what happens in the real world, in the marketplace, in business, in a realm of tough competition, of conflict and its passions? Nasaata B’emunah? Are you a mensch where it counts? What does business do to us? How many human beings must earn their livelihood at the expense of their own humanity? How much of us must die in order to make a living? Nasaata B’emunah? Are you faithful to the best in you, even under the worst of circumstances?

Tzipita L’yeshua? Do you expect redemption? Do you have hope?

Victor Frankel was a Viennese psychiatrist when he was taken to Auschwitz in 1941. As he struggled to survive Nazi slavery, he carefully studied his fellow prisoners. He writes: “Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost … We had to learn that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly.”

Hope isn’t given or found or revealed. We choose hope. We choose to grasp and hold the possibilities of tomorrow. Tzipita L’yeshua? Do you choose to live with hope?

Immortality is not found in heaven or beyond the grave. It is in our hearts, in the way we live, in the daily tasks of life. This holiday, go to synagogue or find a place that’s quiet, and ask yourself God’s questions. This year, may we find the eternity planted within.


Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

It’s Just Business


“Do they all have to be Italian?”

This is the question the network executive asked the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond” as they were casting Ray Romano’s family. A dumb question? If what was going on here was finding the best possible cast for a particular show, then, yeah, it would be a dumb question. But this is network television, where the marketing department has as much, if not more, to say about which shows will get on the air as the creative department. In order to deliver viewers, the network will do anything it can to avoid alienating the majority of Americans, who happen to be white Protestants. And conventional wisdom dictates that these people want to see themselves reflected on TV. So maybe asking whether all the Romanos have to be Italian was not such a dumb question, after all.

There’s been a lot of angry and disappointed reaction to the new TV shows for fall. The NAACP is protesting this television season’s all-white look. Hispanics and Asians are absent in leading roles, just like they usually are. And are there any Jews this year? I can’t think of one.

While I personally think this situation is deplorable from an aesthetic and cultural point of view, I honestly don’t believe the decision-makers at the networks are sitting around, wondering how they can keep ethnic groups off television. What they are sitting around and thinking about is money. Their own and the corporation’s, which, of course, are intimately connected. Millions, no, make that billions, of American advertising dollars ride on a hit TV show, and a hit TV show rides on only one thing: the numbers. If this is starting to sound more like a Vegas crap shoot than electronic theater, you’re following perfectly.

For the corporation to make money, those networks have got to sell commercial time, and the more viewers they can deliver, the more they can charge for that commercial time. See, it’s not politics; it’s math.

Since we’re talking about economics, remember the “trickle down theory?” Here’s how it works in TV: As a producer and writer of network television shows, I want to keep my checks rolling in, so I’ve got to deliver what my boss wants. I can start out creating a Jewish character, but by the time it’s on the air, she’ll be a white Protestant.

I created a character named Cassandra Kaplan. She lived on the Upper West Side of New York and was a literary agent in the publishing business. Could you get more Jewish? This was a pilot script — i.e. a template episode for a potential show. CBS liked it and wanted to shoot it. The network M.O. that year was to only develop shows that had a star in the lead role. This was not because Les Moonves, the president of the network, wanted to create jobs for out-of-work stars. No, he believed that the most reliable way to get people to tune in was to give them a familiar product, someone they already knew and loved.

OK, if we want the Cassandra Kaplan project to move forward, we need a star. Fran Drescher: already got a show. Bette Midler: developing her own project. Barbra Streisand: Get real. She’s not gonna do episodic TV. I think we’re out of Jewish stars. What’s annoying is that it’s self-perpetuating. Few obviously Jewish actresses are cast in leading roles; therefore, few have the opportunity to become stars. So then when you need a star, you haven’t got a Jewish one, and you have to go with someone who’s not. We cast Kathy Baker, the Emmy-winning star of “Picket Fences.” The network was happy; the project moved forward.

Kathy is a wonderful actress, and we were lucky to get her. She brought warmth and depth and humor to the role, but she certainly isn’t Jewish. So Kaplan became Cassidy, and that, as they say, is show business. Jewish writers, Jewish producers, Jewish network executives, but the audience is not Jewish. Nothing personal, just business.

When I was growing up, my father had a jewelry store in Sioux City, Iowa. He was Jewish and half the people who worked in the store were Jewish and a lot of the companies that supplied him with merchandise were run by Jews, but come December, he didn’t sell Chanukah gifts; he sold Christmas gifts because he was running a business and that’s where the money was. Well, TV is a business, no different then my Dad’s jewelry store, except the grosses are a whole lot bigger.


For the past two years, Ellen Sandler has been co-executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which airs Monday nights on CBS.

Sealing the Breach


This Father’s Day, I’d like to say a word about masking tape.

My father sold masking tape in about 30 different sizes and textures, as part of his business, selling industrial supplies. Putty colored, silver-grey, clear; half-inch, 1, 2, 3 inch; available by the case and the bundle. Though he went every day to his office, our basement was filled with staple guns of every size, plastic filament and all kinds of fastening equipment, the business that helped pay the mortgage. I understood not a bit of it: not just the business, but the inspiration behind it. When my parents suggested I help them with the paper work, implying that one day this could all be mine, I practically sneered at the drudgery.

The packing business was a natural for Dad, but what could it mean to me? His own father owned a woman’s lingerie shop on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side, but Sam’s real gift was in tying a mean knot. When I asked him for words of wisdom, Grandpa told me, “Save string. You never know when you’ll need it.”

When my father sold his business and retired, he asked what I might want to save from it. I had to think hard. I was an intellectual and wanted to talk ideas. Why couldn’t he leave me a first edition Henry James? What could I possibly want as a momento of those long hard years selling, packing, bundling the materials that belted down Long Island industry?

I’ll take a six pack of tape, I said finally.

This year I started a small business and I could eat my words. My father’s merchandise was a gold-mine, even if it took me decades to realize it. Dad had corrugated boxes, electric staple guns and tape. The putty colored tape was great for shipping, while the electric tape was good for wiring and the clear-plastic was good for mending. My heart soars to think what labor-saving devices were sold off before I knew what they were for.

I could reach heights of sentimentality over the lost time, but here’s the thing — it’s not too late at all. For here we are, in endless meaningful conversation about postage rates and packing labels, which are today’s coin of the realm for those doing business, like me, in the new internet world. He knows everything, let me tell you, especially for one who knows nothing at all. How to develop a market niche, how to ship a package; how to collect from a client, how to track inventory; what to charge for handling fees. How to ride out the low ebb in sales and keep going when you’d rather quit, and when to give up a product line; the difference between making money and wishful thinking.

“Packing and shipping is boring, back-breaking work. Hire someone to do it for you,” he says. When it comes to drudgery, he really knows me.

But did I really know him? Throughout my childhood, for as long as I could remember, my father seemed to groan under the weight of his labor. The sound of his footsteps climbing our apartment stairs signaled the arrival of a man who carried the world home with him. At dinner, he and Mom would discuss the clients of the day. His exhaustion was total.

What could I think but that he hated the enterprise? One day I found a series of his youthful drawings. Dad was an artist with a pencil! I exulted. See, he was made for something better than the toil of business!

So I come to the myths and self-delusions of childhood. Like many other second-generation Americans, I thought I was made for better things, because certainly my parents deserved better than the cards they were dealt.

I went off to college seeking an escape from the labor of the real-world, yearning for a life with status and class — I would fulfill my father’s drawings through my own art. The world of ideas beckoned me because it was unpredictable, creative, filled with what I hoped would be a life of growth and joy.

One mistake I made was in confusing the process from the purpose. Regardless of what course we chose, there will always be some drudgery. Even classical music soloists must practice, no one lives in inspiration all the time.

But one day, a few years ago, I heard myself coming home from the work I love, the work of words and ideas. I groaned into the house and through my briefcase onto the table with exhaustion. I carried the weight of the world into my home. What would my daughter think of me and the world I had chosen for myself?

So when it came to my dad, I could not know the whole story just from the results.

As for business, I was wrong about that too. Business, I have discovered, is fun. Finding a market for a product is creative. And making money through a good product is nice work, not a capitalist tool.

“What would you do if you could start over again?” I asked Dad.

“Oh, the same,” he said. “I was good at it.”

Waste no sympathy on the days gone by.

But save string. You never know when you’ll need it.


Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, is author of “A Woman’s Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family Life” (On The Way Press.)

Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.com. Her book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.