Gambling British haredim blamed for spate of burglaries

Gambling debts among haredi Orthodox British Jews spurred a spate of burglaries in Jewish homes and institutions, The Jewish Chronicle reported.

The London-based newspaper quoted Police Det. Allen Windsor as saying that “there have been a large number of burglaries at Jewish properties for a long time, but recently we have identified members of the Jewish community carrying out burglaries at communal buildings.”

On Thursday, the Chronicle reported that a recent break-in at the city’s Beth Shmuel Synagogue was attributable to gambling debts. Police arrested three Jewish suspects aged 17 to 19, and they admitted to breaking and entering the synagogue and taking keys to a car parked nearby.

Other incidents included the theft of a car and the robbery last year at the home of a Jewish charity director.  The alleged car thief is said to have been planning to use the proceeds to feed his gambling addiction, while the alleged burglar owed $48,000 to an Israeli gang, the paper said.

The Chronicle also reported that a 23-year-old London Jewish man will stand trial next month after denying four charges of burgling a Jewish primary school.

Rabbi Chanan Tomlin of the United Kingdom's Kids Trust charity said there was a “significant” gambling problem among strictly Orthodox communities in Manchester.

“Poker is a problem among yeshiva students,” he said. “There is a poker culture among these young Jews. Some of them are going to casinos and some are addicted to scratch cards.”

Best bet: Super Bowl winner donating long-shot’s payoff to charity

The Jewish owner of a real estate company in New York is donating his $50,000 winnings from a Super Bowl bet to charity.

Jona Rechnitz, 29, of New York, had wagered $1,000 on Super Sunday at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas that the New York Giants would score first—on a safety.

With the odds at 50 to 1, Rechnitz earned a $50,000 payout.

Rechnitz, who is Orthodox, told TMZ that he would donate $5,000 to a charity chosen by New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, who was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone, causing the safety call. Rechnitz also will give $5,000 each to the charities of choice for four Giants’ defensive linemen involved in the play. He also said he wants to take Brady out for a falafel dinner.

Rechnitz, owner of the year-old JSR Capital after having worked for Africa Israel, said he will donate the rest of his after-tax earnings to other charities.

The California native was visiting his parents and decided to watch the Super Bowl in Las Vegas. The Giants defeated the Patriots, 21-17.

Temple bingo — a gamble if it’s a good way to raise funds

The social hall at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks undergoes a major transformation every Thursday night. Television monitors and a flashing scoreboard are mounted on the walls, and a sea of cafeteria-style tables cluttered with small computer monitors, game cards and good-luck charms take up most of the room.

The Thursday nightlife at this Conservative congregation is all about bingo.

“It’s an excellent fundraiser,” said Michael Roberts, an Etz Chaim board member and the synagogue’s former bingo trustee. “[The players] are noncongregants, and they enjoy bingo like you can’t believe.”

Typically associated with American Legion halls, Elks clubs and churches, the sedentary game that caters to seniors is not often associated with Jewish houses of worship. But a few synagogues across the Southland have offered weekly bingo nights as temple fundraisers for decades.

While some shuls embrace the idea of opening their doors to the local bingo crowd, others are adamantly opposed to the idea of the increasingly popular game because of its gambling stigma.

Bingo’s origins can be traced back to 16th century European lotteries, but its modern equivalent was inspired by a carnival game called Beano, which was adapted by New York salesman Edwin Lowe in 1929. When Lowe organized a game for his friends, one of the players is said to have become so excited that she yelled out “bingo” instead of “beano” and the name stuck.

While the game is frequently looked upon as a fundraising tool for religious and charitable organizations, the proliferation of Native American-run casinos over the last 20 years has enabled commercial bingo halls with higher stakes to spread out beyond the state of Nevada. The new generation of players seeking bigger jackpots now comes armed with special markers, called daubers, and other paraphernalia in bingo bags that double as seat cushions.

Television has taken notice of bingo’s boom. In March, cable channel GSN launched “Bingo America” with host Patrick Duffy, a successor to ABC’s 2007 “National Bingo Night,” in which two contestants compete to win up to $100,000, and viewers at home can play along to win money.

For many, bingo remains a social game. The roughly 150 players — mostly female and above retirement age — who file into Temple Etz Chaim each Thursday night find time spent at the synagogue is a opportunity to visit with friends and share the hope of winning big.

Etz Chaim’s bingo fundraiser has been run entirely by synagogue volunteers for the last 23 years, and it generates about $100,000 a year for the congregation, with all proceeds going toward the temple’s preschool and religious school.

Roberts sees bingo as a win-win situation for the congregation and the community.

“It’s a community service, in a way,” Roberts said. “We’re providing a service of running games and helping students.”

He added that the games also help the surrounding non-Jewish community get to know the congregants and the shul. “They realize that we’re nice people,” he said.

At the synagogue level, Etz Chaim says it also enjoys greater involvement from congregants, because many of its bingo volunteers go on to participate in other synagogue committees and events.

But at a time when many synagogues and Jewish agencies hold casino-themed fundraisers, not everyone thinks gambling and shuls mix.

“I’m very ambivalent about a synagogue providing a regular gambling opportunity, especially for the population that tends to frequent bingo,” said Rabbi Rick Brody of Temple Ami Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in West Covina that halted its own bingo fundraiser three years ago. “At least from what I was seeing, [the players are] people who, to one degree or another, are addicted and are focused on wining as much money as they can, and I don’t think that that is what a synagogue should be focusing on.”

Brody was relieved when his temple did away with its bingo program due to poor revenue and lack of volunteers. But even if profits were higher, the rabbi doesn’t “think it really helps the spiritual bottom line of what the congregation is supposed to be about.”

Brody is not alone. In fact, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference for American Rabbis adopted resolutions advising rabbis and shuls to discourage their congregants from using gambling as a fundraiser.

Rabbi Ted Riter of Temple Adat Elohim, a Reform congregation in Thousand Oaks, believes that a bingo fundraiser would conflict with his synagogue’s identity.

“Our vision of where we’re going and who we are is that we try to heal the world and open up paths for spirituality and draw community together,” Riter said. “Gambling doesn’t seem to fulfill any of those directions.”

A few Adat Elohim congregants, like Mitch Schwartz of Newbury Park, disagree.

“Why not get money out of the community at large if you can, instead of nickel-and-diming the congregation?” said Schwartz, a former Adat Elohim Brotherhood ways and means chair.

Schwartz said that if the temple adopted bingo, the shul wouldn’t have to raise membership dues on a yearly basis.

But without support from a core group of dedicated volunteers, many bingo fundraisers fail. Weekly volunteer positions include game sales, bankers, callers, game verifiers, food vendors and computer rental salesmen.

At Temple Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Whittier, bingo volunteers are broken up into four teams of eight people, each of whom rotates their services. Temple Etz Chaim relies on 15 people a week.

While it’s hard to argue with the monetary gain (Temple Beth Shalom also made close to $100,000 in a year), many people feel that bingo fundraisers do not add much to the shul community itself, besides the friendships forged between volunteers.

Among the synagogues interviewed, only Etz Chaim had one bingo player affiliate with the synagogue.

And even some congregants at Etz Chaim are not entirely comfortable with game. Over the years, Roberts said a few board members and other active shul members have questioned the validity of the fundraiser.

“We said if you can think of another way to make this much money, we’ll close bingo,” Roberts said. “No one’s ever come up with another way.”

For more information, visit Bingo America.

A chai roller rakes in the chips in Gardena and Vegas

Except for the Victorian-style chandeliers, Hustler Casino in Gardena looks like an oversized neighborhood card room, with its round indoor arena filled with dozens of poker and blackjack tables. Several hundred people fill the room at any hour of the day, all of them playing cards, or waiting to get a seat. There are no looky-loos.

Those who come to Hustler are there to gamble, at whatever level they choose, from Easy Poker in a glass-encased room in the middle of the floor to games that run into the many thousands of dollars.

In spite of its name, Hustler Casino does not feature busty, scantily clad women. Employees dress conservatively, and those who come here to gamble don’t even notice them. The gamblers here are a varied lot, all ages and races, many of them risking paychecks or pensions. But there are also some high rollers. Some very high rollers.

At the farthest reaches of the casino is the main table. And, one day last fall, sitting there, facing the room, was one of the highest rollers of them all: publisher Larry Flynt, best known for his Hustler magazine and stores, whose early struggles were portrayed in the movie “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” Flynt owns the casino, so he’s king of this table, and he likes to compete with some of the world’s best poker players. To Flynt’s right is Phil Ivey, known to television viewers as the “Tiger Woods of poker,” a brilliant, relentless player who pounces on weakness as if he were indeed a tiger going after wounded prey.

Across from Flynt, sitting with his back to the room, is Barry Greenstein, a man in his early 50s, whose beard, receding hairline, deep-set eyes, and slim frame give him a serious aura. Greenstein is also a poker superstar. And yet … he seems out of place at this casino, as if he were a middle-aged yeshiva bocher who has suddenly found himself in an alien, sinful environment. Perhaps to distance himself from his surroundings, he maintains the unemotional, detached air of a researcher studying the native habits of big-time poker players.

Greenstein is a passionate student of the game, a man who’s made a lifelong study of poker and has written a book about it, “Ace on the River” (Last Knight Publishing Co., 2005), aimed at professionals, or would-be ones.

He’s well-educated and articulate, and he’s also generous, having given millions to charities: $1.5 million to Children, Inc., which provides food, medicine and clothing to needy children in 21 countries, including the United States; plus another $1.5 million to a dozen other worthy beneficiaries, including the high school he attended in Chicago.

Because of all this, he represents the transition that poker has been making from smoky, disreputable card rooms to glittery tournaments showcased on ESPN and other national TV networks.

And like more than a few of the big names of the poker world, Greenstein is Jewish. Actually, he says that he’s “of Jewish heritage” and is aware of the traditions, but that he doesn’t “practice the religion.” Still, he acknowledges that “the morals and ethics of Judaism are a part of me.” Is his giving so much to the needy an example of that?

“It’s a mitzvah,” he said. “It makes me happy to have the opportunity to do the right thing.”

Greenstein is not the only Jew at poker’s highest levels. There’s Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, who wears a chai necklace and is known for his nonstop chatter and emotional outbursts. And Eli Elezra, an Israeli.

“When Eli plays poker,” Greenstein notes on his Federation may face lawsuit over fundraiser Prizant’s firing

If it wasn’t for Jews, Las Vegas wouldn’t be the town it is today

If it wasn’t for Jews, Las Vegas wouldn’t be the town it is today. Proof of Jewish prosperity can be found across the city, especially in its stunning architecture.

Hollywood has shot films here for nearly a century, from early silent Westerns to “Easy Rider” (1969) and “Red Dawn” (1984). But as evidenced in the 2001 cross-country documentary, “Freedom Downtime,” people sometimes confuse this Las Vegas with the Nevada gambling mecca.

Located nearly 700 miles east of the The Strip, and founded 70 years before Sin City was first established as a railroad town, Las Vegas, N.M., was an early destination for Jewish settlers hoping to stake a claim in the burgeoning West.
Today Las Vegas is largely a Latino town of about 16,000, located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, an hour’s drive east of Santa Fe.

Its main street is straight out of a Western movie, and its architecture ranges from one-story adobes to Victorian painted ladies. The former synagogue, Temple Montefiore, established in 1886 as the first Jewish congregation in the New Mexico territory, is now the St. Paul’s Newman Center. However, the space is still used for monthly Shabbat services on the first Saturday of the month by the Jewish Community of Las Vegas, a 40-family congregation.

While settled by Spaniards in the 18th century, the Santa Fe Trail helped put Las Vegas on the map in 1821. It was the first town that American pioneers came to after hundreds of dusty miles on the Great Plains, and Las Vegas soon became a center of commerce.

With the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1879, Las Vegas became a boomtown, attracting Jewish merchants driven out of Germany by social and economic restrictions. From 1880 to the early 20th century, the city’s Jewish population rivaled that of Albuquerque.

Its most prominent Jewish pioneer was Charles Ilfeld, who came to America to avoid the draft in his native Prussia. In 1865, he arrived in Taos, N.M., at the age of 18 with $5 in his pocket. Ilfeld went to work with another Jewish merchant, Adolph Letcher. Hearing that trade in Las Vegas was better, they loaded their goods onto 75 mules and moved.

Ilfdeld’s three-story department store, The Great Emporium, was labeled “the largest and finest department house in all the Southwest” by the Las Vegas Daily Optic, a newspaper still in operation today. His business, The Charcles Ilfeld Co., eventually branched out into 20 communities and continued to operate into the 1950s. His building stands at 224 Plaza St., next door to the imposing 1882 Plaza Hotel. On one exterior wall, in faded letters, you can still read: “Charles Ilfeld Co. Wholesalers of Everything.”

Las Vegas’ synagogue was established in 1884, after Charles Ilfeld purchased the lot for $640; many non-Jewish locals contributed to the construction fund. The building was later moved to Eighth and Columbia streets and modified.

Ilfeld Auditorium on the campus of New Mexico Highland University, where Charles Ilfeld served as president on the board of regents, was established in 1920 in memory of his wife, Adele. The purplish sandstone structure was recently restored, and has been called the finest example of Roman Revival in New Mexico.

Pictures of the Ilfeld family and other Jewish pioneers hang on the walls of La Galeria de los Artisanos, a homey bookstore that’s been in the same location at 220 North Plaza for 45 years. Formerly the law offices of Charles Ilfeld’s son, Louis, the building is now owned by Diane Stein.

Another prominent arrival was Emanuel Rosenwald, whose building at the corner of the Plaza and Bridge streets, the town’s main drag, once sported a large glass and cast-iron awning. Now a storage facility fronted by a faded sign, “Navajo Textiles,” it awaits restoration.

The Citizens’ Committee for Historic Preservation at 127 Bridge St. has a useful brochure, “Historic Las Vegas, New Mexico: Along the Santa Fe Trail,” which provides maps and descriptions of residences of Ilfeld family members and others.

The 1890s saw the beginning of years of economic depression in Las Vegas, and by the 1920s the Jewish population had begun to decline. Restrictions on U.S. immigration prevented new blood from arriving, and many Jewish residents, including Ilfeld, moved to Albuquerque and other large cities.

Jewish Las Vegas in the 21st century is more subdued than in its late 19th century heyday. And while no descendants of the original settlers remain, a new generation of Jews has taken root in this unspoiled Western town.

Newcomers include Ken and Carol Weisner, owners of Victory Alpaca Ranch, and Francis Salman of nearby Salman Raspberry Ranch, which features a 19th century hacienda and a u-pick farm.

Some 40 families belong to the Jewish Community of Las Vegas. There are baby-naming and b’nai mitzvah ceremonies, and the Jewish holidays bring out a fair crowd to the St. Paul’s Newman Center.

Las Vegas resident Michael Immerman said that the Jewish community continues to thrive here. In lieu of a regular synagogue space, “[religion] is pretty much done in everyone’s home,” he said.

” TARGET=”_blank”>The Citizens’ Committee for Historic Preservation

” TARGET=”_blank”>Salman Raspberry Ranch

Renata Polt is a film reviewer and freelance travel writer based in Berkeley.

33 Parties File for Israeli Elections

Thirty-three Israeli political parties signed up by Tuesday night’s registration deadline to run in the May 17 Knesset elections, breaking the previous record of 27 parties. In addition to the large political parties, several special-interest parties and newcomers to the political scene registered, including the Casino Party, which seeks to legalize gambling, and the Green Weed Party, whose platform calls for the legalization of marijuana and other recreational drugs.

Six candidates met Tuesday’s deadline to run in Israel’s May elections for prime minister: Likud incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak of Labor, centrist candidate Yitzhak Mordechai, right-wing bloc leader Ze’ev “Benny” Begin, Israeli Arab legislator Azmi Beshara and former right-wing Knesset member Yosef Ba-Gad. Begin’s candidacy was almost invalidated when the election committee found that some 11,000 of the 58,000 signatures required to support his candidacy were forged. But Begin was allowed to run, after he secured the backing of 10 Knesset members, an alternative to the petitions. — JTA

Desperate Gambles

As a metaphor for life, there is nothing to beatgambling. Raising the ante, bluffing, keeping a poker-face, winning,losing, staying in the game, these are all transactions whichsymbolize the pressures, conquests and defeats which characterize ourdaily lives. Of all of them, the most important is “staying in thegame” which is just another way of saying, clinging to life.

Clockwise from center front, Dan Hildebrand(back of head), Patrick Kerr, Denis Arndt, Daniel Davis, DaraghO’Malley and Adam Scott in “Dealer’s Choice.”

I am convinced that the appeal of gambling is thatit offers a psychic replay of the trials and quests of life incircumstances that persuade the gambler that he can outwit thearbitrary motions of fate. Symbolically, the dealer is God andalthough He most always wins the toss, there are enough instances ofthe player triumphing over Him to instill the idea that, if the rightsystem can be devised, a propitious wind made to prevail, He can bevanquished. Outwitting God means outwitting Death and any form ofactivity, whether it be religion or gambling that holds out theprospect of such a prize is going to regularly attractconverts.

Although the surface of Patrick Marber’s play”Dealer’s Choice” appears to be concerned with the exigencies ofpoker, on a subtextual level it is about surviving the punishments ofcruel gods. In that sense, it is the most classical work to be seenin L.A. in many a season. All of its characters suffer from tragicflaws. All are victims of a hubris which will ultimately cause theirdownfall. All are trying to avoid a predestination from which nonecan escape.

But none of the foregoing suggests the gaiety andwit on hand at the Mark Taper Forum where Marber’s parable on pokeris now playing. For although in its bedrock, “Dealer’s Choice” is atragedy, its surface bristles with scintillating one-liners androllicking comic banter. Sometimes more than the traffic canstand.

In the first act, the play deftly introduces us toa variety of characters in a downmarket London restaurant all of whomsuffer from the same compulsion. In the second act, the GrandCeremony in which these compulsions are dramatically played out isthe midnight poker game. It soon becomes clear that theirgambling-mania is merely a cover for a larger malaise which, to onedegree or another, has infected them all. There are severalcirculating conflicts in the play but the main one centers on therelationship between Stephen, the paternal restaurateur and Carl, hisgambling-addicted son. The father dispenses a lot of time and energytrying to save the boy from the fatal weakness that has alreadyclaimed his own life and which he shows no signs of kicking. Finally,he tries and fails to rescue him from the clutches of a sinisterprofessional gambler to whom he is heavily in debt, and the cycle,unbroken and unbreakable, continues to revolve.

Marber invests almost all of his characters withhis own literary heft and so cooks, waiters and small-time con menare amazingly blessed with literary frames of reference and morearticulateness than would seem appropriate to their callings. Likethe expert card-player Marber probably is, he somewhat stacks hisdeck in regard to his characters and when the evening is over, onealmost feels like asking to examine the deck to make sure it isn’tmarked. The author’s remorseless cleverness is a little like being inthe presence of a comedian who is so unflaggingly “on,” he doesn’trealize he is beginning to browbeat his audience. But in the secondact, Marber hones into the bone- marrow behind the play’s softunderbelly and we are genuinely drawn into the whirlpool of desperatepeople trapped in inescapable circumstances.

Director Robert Egan has done a masterful job witha play that could have easily dwindled into caricature. He hasassembled a cast of both Americans and Brits and managed to produce awell-integrated ensemble with a consistent tone of voice and aperfect balance between comedy and pathos. Denis Arndt shuttlessmoothly between geniality and suffering as the restaurateur; PatrickKerr is pathetically vulnerable as a waiter who can’t say no; DaraghO’Malley, calm and grounded, as the cook who forfeits the wages heshould have spent entertaining his visiting daughter, and DanielDavis, combining the evil of George Zucco with the smarminess ofLionel Atwill, is excellent as an inveterate gambler trying to climbout of the hole. David Jenkins’ London restaurant setting perfectlycaptures the seedy, greasy-spoon atmosphere which pervades so manymid-sized English bistros which, with a pretension towardsclassiness, never quite manage to achieve class.

Charles Marowitz, Jewish Journal theatercritic, writes from Malibu.