Nightclub owner Sam Nazarian gives up control of Las Vegas hotel

Sam Nazarian made his name and his billion-dollar fortune creating L.A. clubs and restaurants that attracted the hippest young celebrities.

He parlayed that fame into hotels in Beverly Hills and Miami's South Beach. This year, he looked to Las Vegas as the next step in a bold global expansion, opening the 1,600-room SLS Las Vegas hotel and casino in August.

Then he ran into the Nevada Gaming Control Board.


Zionist group to honor anti-Islam activists at Hotel Shangri-La

When the Muslim part-owner of a Santa Monica boutique hotel was found guilty last year of discriminating against a group of Jewish patrons, the hotel announced it would host a party for a Jewish group as part of its efforts to repair its reputation. Now, the Zionist group whose party is scheduled to take place at the hotel on Feb. 24 plans to use the occasion to present awards to two of the United States’ most outspoken anti-Islam activists — Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.

Orit Arfa, former executive director of the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), is organizing the party as a benefit for her new organization, Creative Zionist Coalition (CZC).

In August, a jury found the Hotel Shangri-La and its part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, guilty of discriminating in 2010 against 18 plaintiffs — most of them young Jews — when she disrupted a party organized by the local youth division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. In response to the verdict, Arfa and ZOA National Vice Chair Steve Goldberg announced plans to hold a protest outside the Shangri-La, but cancelled the protest when Adaya, who is of Pakistani descent, agreed to host a party at the hotel for leaders of the Jewish and pro-Israel community.

Earlier this month, lawyers for Adaya and the Shangri-La filed a motion requesting a retrial of the case, but the party planning appears to be proceeding unabated.

According to an email sent by Arfa on Jan. 18, the Feb. 24 event at the Shangri-La will be a costume party and “a celebration of Jewish heroism in the face of Jew-hatred,” taking place on the evening after Purim. At the event, Geller will receive the “Queen Esther Award for Jewish Heroism,” and Spencer will be honored as “Righteous Gentile.” Both are expected to attend, Arfa said.

A third award, named for Haman, the villain of the Purim story, was also announced in the Jan. 18 email; it will be presented in absentia to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, “for Jew-hating villainy.”

Geller is the prolific blogger who led opposition to the construction of an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan, which she dubbed “the Ground Zero Mosque.” She also made headlines in 2012 when one of her organizations, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, posted pro-Israel ads in the New York City subway system referring to enemies of the Jewish state as Jihadist “savages.”

Geller is a divisive figure in the Jewish community, as well. In June 2012, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles barred Geller from delivering a speech about “Islamic Jew-Hatred” at a ZOA-sponsored event that had been scheduled to take place at its Wilshire Boulevard headquarters.

Arfa organized a protest outside the Federation building on the morning that Geller was prevented from speaking there. Subsequently, in November, Arfa was fired from her position at ZOA after internally questioning ZOA’s leadership’s decision to, in her words, “conceal” its loss of tax-exempt status earlier that year. The ZOA’s Western Region’s office, which had ben located in Federation headquarters, is currently in the process of relocating to San Francisco.

The ZOA, which has filed all the papers necessary for reinstatement of its tax-exempt status, had planned to co-sponsor the Shangri-La event with CZC, but it pulled its co-sponsorship a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, Goldberg said, plans for the party are moving ahead, and he said he does not expect any resistance from the hotel.

“They didn’t say, ‘We have to approve who’s going to come,’” Goldberg said. “The hotel’s actually been very cooperative.”

“What are they going to do?” he added, “say ‘This is too pro-Jewish?’ They’re going to throw another Jewish group out?”

Ellen Adelman, chief development officer at the Shangri-La said in an emailed statement that the hotel “is committed to enhancing understanding and cooperation between people of all backgrounds and cultures, and to embrace differences.

“Our hope is that we can come together and celebrate the theme of their party – Purim – a holiday designed to bring people together,” Adelman wrote.

Shangri-La juror said to have hidden her Jewishness

In court papers filed Jan. 7, attorneys for the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its owner allege that of 12 members on the jury that unanimously found their clients guilty of discriminating in 2010 against a group of Jewish patrons, one juror concealed her own Jewishness during jury selection. 

The attorneys’ assertion appears in a 21-page memorandum supporting their motion for a new trial, one of a number of post-trial motions filed in recent weeks in the same Santa Monica courtroom where the jury’s unanimous verdict against the Shangri-La and its part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, was first handed down in August 2012. 

In the memorandum, the hotel’s attorneys state that the judge who presided over the trial made errors in law, that the evidence presented was insufficient to justify the final verdict and that the damages awarded by the jury to the 18 plaintiffs — more than $1.6 million in all — were excessive. 

But of all the arguments advanced in the memorandum, the lawyers’ assertions about “misconduct” behind the closed door of the jury room stand out. 

According to the memorandum, Juror No. 7, identified as Yerha Vasquez, “failed to disclose her religious background, Jewish, during voir dire,” the process of jury selection that takes place before a trial begins, which lasted more than three full days before the Shangri-La trial officially commenced. 

The hotel’s lawyers cite another juror as the source for this assertion. In a three-page declaration also filed in court by the defense, juror Debra Clint says that Vasquez “often cried during deliberations about her pain and her past history.” 

Clint’s declaration does not include any mention of Vasquez’s religion.

Steven Richman, a partner in the firm Epport, Richman & Robbins, LLP, who joined the legal team defending the Shangri-La and Adaya after the conclusion of the trial, would not say how he first became aware of Clint’s concerns about what took place in the jury room, but he stood by the memorandum’s claim about Vasquez’s concealing her Jewishness. 

“She [Vasquez] did not disclose her religion or the fact that she believed that she had been harassed before,” Richman said in an interview with the Journal on Jan. 10. 

Clint, who signed her declaration on Nov. 21, 2012, also complained about another juror, identified only as “Ms. Schellpfeffer.” Clint describes Schellpfeffer as “aggressive, forceful and outspoken during deliberations,” and also makes the claim that Schellpfeffer came into deliberations wanting to “ ‘stick it to’ the Defendants.” 

Clint’s statement alleges that Vasquez “aligned herself with … Schellpfeffer, and agreed and voted with Ms. Schellpfeffer on whatever Ms. Schellpfeffer said.” 

The defense memorandum describes Schellpfeffer’s conduct as “a manifest refusal to deliberate,” but one juror’s allegedly dominating deliberations may not be sufficient grounds for a judge to grant a new trial, according to an expert on the topic. 

“That’s not a basis for overturning a verdict,” Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the law school at University of California, Irvine, said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

In their memorandum, the defense attorneys presented other reasons to grant a new trial. They argue that because the organization with which the plaintiffs were affiliated, the Los Angeles-based young leadership division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, is not a religious group, the Unruh Civil Rights Act should not apply to them. 

James H. Turken, the managing partner of Dickstein Shapiro LLP’s three offices in California who represented the plaintiffs at the original trial, disputed the defense’s interpretation of the Unruh Act. 

Because Adaya is said to have instructed her staff to remove “the [expletive] Jews” from the Shangri-La’s pool, Turken said the identity of the organization sponsoring the party that Adaya disrupted is irrelevant. 

“They could’ve been there with the United Way,” he said. “If they were Jewish people and she made that comment, that would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act.”

The defense’s motion for a new trial is scheduled to be heard in court on Jan. 31.

American gunman killed in Israeli hotel shoot-out

An American man opened fire in an Israeli seaside hotel packed with tourists on Friday after losing his job there, killing one person before being shot dead in a stand-off with security forces.

The firefight erupted in the popular Red Sea resort of Eilat when New York native William Hershkovitz, 23, attacked a security guard at the Leonardo Club hotel and snatched his gun, officials and witnesses said.

He then shot dead one of the hotel chefs, whom police identified as 33-year-old Armando Abed.

Police and military counter-terrorism officers swiftly surrounded the hotel, and Hershkovitz barricaded himself in the kitchen. After failed negotiations, there was an exchange of fire and Hershkovitz was shot dead, Eilat police spokesman Lior Ben-Simon said.

An Israeli hotel guest, Aviram Sela, said he had tried to wrestle the gunman to the ground before he started shooting, while terrified tourists dived for cover behind a sofa in the hotel lobby.

“We saw him beat the guard and grab his weapon and the magazine,” Sela told Israeli television, adding that the gunman then took aim at a member of Sela's family.

Hershkovitz had arrived in Israel in August as part of a five-month Israeli government-sponsored programme meant to help foreigners become acquainted with the country, said Israel Way, the company that runs the trip.

He and about 80 other participants in the programme were working in hotels throughout Eilat.

Hershkovitz on Thursday was told to leave the programme after hotel staff had lodged complaints against him.

He “had met all admission requirements and his medical record was clean,” Israel Way said in a statement. The internationally funded Jewish Agency, another of the programme's sponsors, said it had appointed a panel to examine how Hershkovitz had been accepted.

Israeli hotels showcase a summer medley of adventures

Spurred by a record-breaking number of foreign tourists who visited the Holy Land during the first quarter of 2012, Israel’s burgeoning hotel industry is gearing up for a busy summer tourism season by sprucing up their facilities and offering a variety of titillating vacation packages.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the 752,000 foreign visitors who entered the country between January and March 2012, not only eclipsed last year’s figures by 2 percent, the first-quarter figures also represent a 1 percent increase over 2010, which Israel’s Ministry of Tourism declared was Israel’s best year ever for incoming tourism.

Despite the generally optimistic picture, many hotel managers aren’t assuming that North American Jewish tourists will reflexively book a vacation to Israel when there are myriad interesting destinations to choose from. In order to attract both veteran and new foreign tourists to their facilities, some of Israel’s best-known hotels have undergone a series of physical transformations in order to broaden their appeal, while others have focused on offering newfangled experiences to both couples and families with children.

Ilan Brenner, executive assistant manager of marketing and sales at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, said that the hotel’s staff knows its clients, and in a growing number of cases they have literally grown up with entire families.

“So when a new generation emerges, we already have a good idea about their needs. Both returning and new tourists are always searching for and asking about upgrades, so we are constantly adding incentives, whether it’s a free car, a multimedia game room for youngsters, new spa treatments, trendy gastronomic experiences in the dining room,” he said. 

Rafi Beeri, the Dan Hotel’s vice president of marketing and sales, said renovations at Dan properties have included some innovations. “The King David has undergone a major makeover with a new section of rooms and suites. At the Dan Carmel, which debuted in 1962, we have completed a top-to-bottom renovation [that] includes new executive rooms, which overlook Haifa Bay and the Carmel Mountains. With the Dan Jerusalem, which we acquired in 2010, we realized that renovating this huge hotel would have to be done in phases and feature some unique aspects.”

According to Beeri, the Dan Jerusalem highlights a unique hotel-within-a-hotel concept, where both guests and groups can benefit from more personalized services and amenities.

“It can be compared to an airline’s business-class environment,” he said. “We’ve upgraded a wing of 120 rooms, where guests or groups who wish to stay in this section will enjoy a separate check-in area, separate lounge and dining facilities, as well as a special staff that will cater to them in a more personalized manner.”

The Ramada Jerusalem Hotel has acquired a stellar reputation among families who seek discounted long-term vacation packages (from seven to 21 days) with a variety of summer activities for adults and children, including its “We Love Kids” program, which features daily entertainment for children, including magicians and petting zoos.

“During weekdays, we offer complimentary shuttle bus service to the Old City, which is an attraction for the parents. And, our outdoor American-style barbecues out by the pool area during August always attracts a large audience of both adults and children,” said Yacov Shaari, general manager of the Ramada Jerusalem Hotel. The growing Rimonim chain recently rebranded four of its upscale properties to create the “Royal Collection,” which includes the Royal Dead Sea, Rimonim Eilat, Ruth Rimonim Safed and Rimonim Galei Kinnereth. Each hotel accentuates contrasting experiences for the mind, body and soul.

“During the summer months, the Royal Dead Sea will feature special spa packages that include the hotel’s new Royal Lounge,” said Anat Aharon, Rimonim’s vice president of sales and marketing. “At the Ruth Rimonim in Safed, we invite guests to let their soul breathe amid the mystic beauty of the hotel’s Galilean surroundings. The hotel also features a wine cellar, where you can sample the best Israeli wines and enjoy small talk.”

At the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel, where North American, British and French tourists converge during the summer months, the “accent” will be on indulging kids and parents alike.

“Last year, we opened a children’s pool. This year, we will complement it with a guarded kids’ playground with games and toys, where families can relax and enjoy the pool while their children are playing,” said Jean-Louis Ripoche, general manager of the Sheraton Tel Aviv. “During the summer, we will be extending breakfast hours in the dining room till noon, so couples and families can enjoy a longer, relaxed morning. After breakfast, we offer adults a free bicycle, so they can pedal around the seaside boardwalk area and beyond.”

It’s important to note that despite a 15 to 20 percent rise in the cost of airline tickets to Israel since last summer, many Israeli hotels have not raised their basic rates. Israeli hoteliers are cognizant of the fact that families are looking to maximize their vacation experience without blowing a hole in their budget.

Here is a guide to some of the hottest summer deals across Israel:

Inbal Jerusalem Hotel
July rates begin at $150 per person in a double room, based on a minimum five-night stay. The hotel’s Web site features several unique summer deals. Guests who book three consecutive nights in a “superior room” are entitled to a free car. Guests who book at least three consecutive nights in “executive rooms” or higher category are also entitled to a vehicle upgrade (such as Mazda 6). In August, the hotel’s popular Kids Club will feature a supervised multimedia game room and Gymboree. The Splash Bar situated poolside highlights an American-style barbecue menu as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for adults and children. The hotel’s Mediterranean-accented Sofia restaurant has received rave reviews for the unique fish and pasta dishes served up by executive chef Moti Buchbut.

Ramada Jerusalem Hotel
The hotel’s “We Love Kids” rates start at $198 based on a seven- to 14-night stay, including two adults and one child in a room (including breakfast). Rates are discounted even further based on stays exceeding 14 nights. Amenities include large indoor and outdoor pools, health club and sauna, as well as supervised summer children’s camps and a teen corner during July and August. This hotel highlights OU mehadrin glatt kosher cuisine.

Dan Hotels
Rates for July and August for guests who book “Golden 7 Nights” at the King David start at $480 a night per room (per couple) based on a bed and breakfast excursion. The “Golden 7” special also includes pampering amenities such as free round-trip transportation between Ben-Gurion Airport and the hotel. Guests who stay a minimum of three nights are entitled to a free voucher to the Dan Lounge at Ben Gurion Airport on the day of their departure from Israel. At the Dan Jerusalem, guests who book a minimum of three nights in “deluxe rooms” will receive a free upgrade to “executive rooms,” which includes the use of the hotel’s new King David Executive Lounge.

Sheraton Tel Aviv
Hotel & Towers

The hotel is offering an “early bird package” starting from $370 per person with a minimum booking of five nights, or three nights non-refundable. The charge for a child in the room under the age of 17 is $30 per child. There is no charge for children under 3 years old. There is a limited promotion whereby guests who stay for a minimum of five nights between Aug. 5 and Aug. 25 will receive complimentary tickets to the world famous Cirque du Soleil, which will be playing Tel Aviv during August. Rates start from $400 a night based on double occupancy. The special deal can be booked direct via the hotel’s Web site.

Rimonim Hotels
Various deals are available for guests who book directly via the Web site. Rates vary for midweek and weekend vacations. At the Royal Dead Sea
guests staying in suites and preferred room types will enjoy a separate check-in at the lounge, private breakfast and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks during the day. Galei Kinnereth’s luxurious spa highlights a “domed Jacuzzi” overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The Rimonim Eilat’s “Serenity & Action” package includes a choice of two hot attractions for the whole family: IMAX Theater/Underwater Observatory/Ice & Space, when reserving for a minimum of three nights. The hotel’s “Romantic Serenity” deal for couples features pampering amenities such as, breakfast for two in your room, one gift dinner, spa treatment for both, as well as a 45-minute pedicure and manicure.

Rimonim Royal Dead Sea pool

Reform, Conservative leaders complain about Israeli hotel discrimination

Leaders of the Israeli Reform and Conservative movements sent a letter of complaint to the Israeli government charging that Israeli hotels discriminate against non-Orthodox Jews.

In a letter to two government ministers, the leaders of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the Masorti Movement alleged that Israeli hotels discriminate by refusing to grant non-Orthodox guests rooms for religious services and the use of Torah scrolls. The complaint follows reports that a Conservative tour group was denied the use of a Torah scroll by a hotel because it planned to hold an egalitarian prayer service. The group ultimately conducted a service without the use of a Torah rather than hold a service led only by men.

“The attitude is insulting and humiliating,” Gilad Kariv and Yizhar Hess wrote in their letter to Stas Misezhnikov, the Israeli tourism minister, and Yuli Edelstein, the minister for public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs. “We ask that you find the proper public manner in which to make it clear that this is an invalid policy that is not compatible with the law, a policy that damages relations with Jews in the Diaspora and the image of the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.”

Two Israeli hotels nab spots on Top 10 list

Two Jerusalem hotels were among the top 10 Best in the World Middle Eastern hotels as ranked by the Conde Nast Travelers Readers’ Choice Awards.

The Inbal Jerusalem came in at No. 4, while the David Citadel tied with the Grand Hyatt Amman in Jordan at No. 6.

The rankings were based on 28,876 responses to a readers’ survey through Global Market Insite Inc. Customers reviewed hotels based on criteria such as food, location, design and service.

The Inbal, located near Liberty Bell Park, was lauded for exceptional food, location and design, finishing with an overall score of 87.5. The David Citadel, which overlooks the Old City, received high marks for location, rooms and activities, and had a score of 86.

Hotels in Dubai, Doha and Riyadh were mentioned as well, with the Park Hyatt Dubai topping the list with a score of 95.5.

Winter brings out Israel’s unique charms

Despite being about the size of New Jersey, Israel has a winter season that offers tourists a unique opportunity to experience the country’s mystical meteorological rollercoaster in different urban and suburban settings.

During the winter months, you can ski on the snow-clad slopes of Mount Hermon in Northern Israel in the early morning hours, hop a midday flight to Tel Aviv, where you can enjoy a delicious outdoor lunch along the Mediterranean beachfront in near-70 degree temperatures, then leisurely board an afternoon Jerusalem-bound train or bus in order to imbibe the crisp and mystifying evening air that envelops the holy city.

“Jerusalem is much more mysterious during the winter months, because most of the time the city is surrounded by fascinating clouds. But you won’t see more than one or two days of consecutive rain, or feel an icy chill running through your bones during the winter,” said Ilan Brenner, the Inbal Laromme Hotel’s executive assistant manager of marketing and sales. 

Jerusalem is also a mecca for thousands of families who jet over during the annual January winter break, in order to reconnect with siblings who attend the various post-high school yeshivot and universities in the metro region. 

“Celebrating Shabbat at a luxurious hotel and partaking in the lavish Mediterranean-themed buffet meals prepared by award- winning chefs, has in recent years become an annual rite for many visiting families and their friends,” Brenner said.

In trendy Tel Aviv, one hotel marketing executive remarked that she actually looks forward to the winter vacation period when “snowbirds” from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada quickly discard their puffy winter coats, change into summer shorts and sandals and make a beeline to the beachfront.

“I’ll be sitting at my desk, trying to warm myself up with a glass of hot tea, but for many of our guests 70-degree weather is warm enough for them to change into summer gear and head straight to the beach or nearby Dizengoff Street in order to do some serious shopping,” she said.

Almost all of the major five-star hotels highlight first-class spas and health clubs, where winter-themed treatments have also become a popular attraction.

Here’s a brief rundown of what some of the better-known hotels are offering tourists during the winter respite:


Inbal Laromme Hotel

The family-oriented hotel is promoting its “Triple Free” program, which includes a free Hertz rental car for each night’s stay, free parking at the hotel and free WiFi. The package requires a minimum three-night stay. The Inbal Jerusalem Hotel features a heated indoor pool as well as a renowned spa that rotates its menu of body and facial treatments for men and women. Inbal Jerusalem’s executive chef Moti Buchbut recently upgraded the menu in the hotel’s Sofia Restaurant, a fish, pasta and patisserie bistro. And the Inbal is the first hotel chain in Israel to offer tech-savvy guests a wide range of services via its online Digital Concierge application.

Atrium lobby of Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental Hotel.

Dan Boutique Hotel

The impeccably designed facility highlights “Go Dan” five- and seven-night special packages through the end of February that are based on a bed and breakfast program. As the Dan Boutique is part of the large Dan hotel chain, which features impressive facilities across Israel, tourists can combine the “Go Dan” packages among various

Mamilla Hotel

The city’s newest upscale hotel, located within the chic Mamilla shopping mall, is promoting a “Discover Jerusalem” winter program. Guests who book a double studio room will be entitled to dinner at the Mamilla Cafe during weekdays (fixed dairy menu) and/or dinner on weekends in the main dining room, plus a complimentary drink in the ultra-cool Mirror Bar. The package, which also includes free use of the gym or steam room, requires a minimum three-night stay and will not be available Dec. 19-27.


David InterContinental Hotel

Extremely popular among business travelers, this hotel is located in Tel Aviv’s revitalized Neve Tzedek neighborhood. The city’s bustling Shuk HaCarmel outdoor market, trendy Sheinkin Street fashion stores and the historical Jaffa Port are all within walking distance. The beach is located directly across the street. The hotel boasts a remodeled business lounge and atrium lobby as well as several swanky bars and restaurants.

Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel and Towers

The newly renovated Sheraton Towers — a hotel within a hotel — offers a private reception area; a new lounge, including a private boardroom facility for meetings of up to eight participants; butler service; and other extra amenities. The hotel’s Olive Leaf signature restaurant, helmed by chef Charlie Fadida, is touted as one of the finest kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv.

Dan Tel Aviv

The legendary luxury hotel, which plays host to many prominent business moguls, celebrities and politicians, is also offering its regular customers a four-night winter package that runs through the end of February. The package is based on a standard bed and breakfast program. The hotel features a high standard of service, plush rooms and suites, an indoor pool and several dining experiences, including the chic Hayarkon 99 restaurant.


Prima Spa Club indoor pool.

Prima Spa Club

For couples who endeavor to get away from it all and enjoy a reinvigorating body-and-soul winter experience, the Prima Spa Club boutique luxury hotel highlights a Moroccan spa, wellness programs, spa parties and VIP services. There are discounted rates available for vacationers who wish to spend seven consecutive nights in the hotel.

Rimonim Royal Dead Sea

The Rimonim chain, which recently assumed control over this five-star facility, has upgraded the Dead Sea region’s largest hotel. The Royal highlights 46 private treatment rooms, an indoor saltwater pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and gymnasium. There’s also an outdoor pool and kids’ pool. During the winter season, the hotel is featuring “Royal Serenity Indulgence,” two- and three-night packages aimed at couples who wish to enjoy a romantic getaway. The midweek and weekend packages include various perks, including a bountiful breakfast and dinner (half-board).

Golden Rose shul’s ruins in no peril, Lviv official says

The ruins of the historic Golden Rose synagogue are in no danger of demolition, a Lviv official told JTA, despite reports to the contrary.

Archeological excavations are being conducted in an adjoining site, Liliya Onyshchenko, the head of the Lviv City Council’s Historical Environment Conservation Administration, said in a statement released Thursday to JTA in response to an article this week in the Western press that appeared to state that the 16th century synagogue’s ruins had been bulldozed.

Plans to build a hotel in the old Jewish quarter of the Ukraine city have stirred controversy.

The synagogue was largely destroyed during World War II; what remains are its foundations and a wall bearing arches. Onyshchenko told JTA that two Soviet-era buildings near the synagogue ruins had been demolished in 2009.

“Additionally, this area is dedicated exclusively to archaeological research,” she said. “No construction took place here, and there was no construction machinery operating here. None of the work taking place in the area had any negative effect on the preserved fragments of the Golden Rose Synagogue.”

The report by Tom Gross published in the Guardian’s “comment is free” section on Sept. 2 was headlined “Goodbye Golden Rose.”

Gross wrote, “Last week I watched as bulldozers began to demolish the adjacent remnants of what was once one of Europe’s most beautiful synagogue complexes, the 16th-century Golden Rose in Lviv.”

JTA ran a Breaking News item this week based on the Gross report.

Eyewitnesses this week told JTA that no building work was being done on the site. In addition, JTA has learned that Jewish representatives and city officials will meet next month to discuss how and when to implement construction of a memorial to Lviv’s Jews on the so-called Synagogue Square, the site of another destroyed synagogue and a prayer house (bet midrash) directly in front of the Golden Rose ruins.

Last year, Lviv staged an international architectural competition for memorials to mark that site and two others of Jewish history in the city—the Janivski camp, where more than 100,000 Jews were killed, and the one section of the destroyed old Jewish cemetery that has not been built over.

The winners, including for the Synagogue Square, were announced in December.

Location, location, location

Your congregation is there for you when you need it, but there are times when you’re tempted to think outside the synagogue such as your wedding.

Destination weddings in spots like Hawaii or the Caribbean are a romantic way to start a new life with someone, but changes in the economy and fuel prices are forcing many couples to rethink the concept of getting “married away.” While money may be no object for some couples and their families, they also have to now consider how far their invitees will be willing to travel to be a part of the big day.

Couples living in Southern California are lucky to have some of America’s best wedding escapes just a few hours’ drive away. And better still, many of them either cater specifically to Jewish clientele (from kosher catering to sourcing a rabbi and chuppah) or else are just so fabulous that they have boasted a Jewish following for years.

The best place to start and finish is a wedding location that speaks to your shared personality as a couple and respects your faith. Whether your wedding planning is a solo effort, includes family or a wedding planner, you should do your homework to determine which Southern California locations are willing to help you with the essentials, especially as Jewish weddings have different requirements than other faiths.

“The great thing about Jewish weddings today is that except in cases of ultra-Orthodox weddings couples can choose elements to the wedding day that truly represent who they are as a couple, especially when approaching how they want to do the ketubah signing, blessings, kosher food, use of challah during the service and other traditions,” said wedding planner Melissa Barrad, who founded event company I Do…Weddings! in 2003. “You should ask prospective venues and caterers about any specific directions they have with kosher food. As there are more opportunities for better kosher food and caterers in Los Angeles, be sure hotels will either allow you to bring in food from your caterer of choice or have the capabilities and certifications to prepare the meals in-house. Also look into such details as rooms with high ceilings for the raised chairs and the horah, and rent a sturdier chair for the bride.”

Barrad also advises couples not to neglect the issue of raising a chuppah at the site, as the structures can be difficult to find and some synagogues won’t rent theirs to non-members. Also, if some hotels do offer a chuppah for rent, look at it to see if it will fit into your wedding aesthetically.

However, she notes that many couples are making their own; craft stores and home improvement emporiums offer a wealth of materials that will enable couples to make their own design for the same cost as or less than a rental. She also suggests asking venues to provide photos from other Jewish weddings it has hosted and access to other Jewish couples who have exchanged their vows there.

Once you have all the right questions at hand, here’s a short list of exceptional California venues to consider, including several that provide a variety of services for Jewish couples:

Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina

The Sheraton San Diego features a stunning new wedding lawn adjacent to a marina that’s perfect for erecting an outdoor chuppah, as well as an extensive selection of indoor and outdoor event space with panoramic views of the San Diego Bay and downtown San Diego. The hotel’s on-site wedding planners will cover every detail required for kosher-style weddings, while all four catering managers on staff are proficient in Jewish weddings and the cultural specialties involved with these events, from the ketubah signing to the horah.

Hard Rock Hotel San Diego

Even with its rock ‘n’ roll spirit and location at the entrance of the buzzing Gaslamp Quarter, the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego has the goods and gear Jewish couples want. One of its unique spaces for a wedding is Woodstock, the hotel’s 9,200-square-foot outdoor urban garden, which can accommodate up to 1,000 people as well as a chuppah, dining tables, lounge area and a large dance floor. Before, during and after the wedding, the couple and their guests can party like rock stars, thanks to the 420 suites, 17 “Rock Star” VIP Suites, nightlife destinations created by Rande Gerber and a Nobu restaurant by celebrated chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa.

The Prado at Balboa Park

Prado not only offers the splendor of its Balboa Park location, but is owned by a Jewish family (the Cohns). While they don’t offer strictly kosher meals, the management is sensitive to various dietary restrictions and has made a variety of accommodations for the many Jewish couples who have wed there.

The Viceroy

In Palm Springs, the Viceroy is ideal not only for its hip Hollywood Regency ambiance but also its hands-on approach to wedding planning.

Saddle Peak Lodge

Although Saddle Peak Lodge is not specifically kosher, the management notes that about half of the weddings they do are for Jewish couples, and they offer a list of nearby resources and vendors to assist couples with their wedding’s special needs. It is also a fitting place for film-buff couples to start their own personal history. Built in 1880 as a hunting lodge, it became an escape for the elite of Golden Age Hollywood, including Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn and Clark Gable. Saddle Peak also takes advantage of nature’s bounty on many fronts, from a kitchen that uses sustainable ingredients from local farms and vendors to a backdrop of trees, waterfalls and the majestic Santa Monica Mountains.

Westlake Village Inn

Halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, the Westlake Village Inn is well suited for couples seeking the detail-oriented luxury of a boutique country inn. There are several garden settings to choose from, from the Lakeside Gazebo to The Waterfall. Couples yearning for the look and feel of a “wedding away” in Europe will love the Mediterraneo Gazebo where a slightly raised Romanesque gazebo takes a “chuppah-like” effect, or the Tuscan Garden.

Lodge at Sonoma

Those who’ve dreamed of a wine country wedding should look into The Lodge at Sonoma, offering the perfect balance of country inn warmth, boutique hotel glamour, Northern California architecture and wine country trappings.

Muddy the Body, Cleanse the Soul

Visitors to Israel are often looking for a spiritual uplift, and one of the country’s best-kept secrets for achieving that transcendent state is not found in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Perhaps it is the oxygen-rich air coupled with the high-concentration of relaxing bromide. Or maybe it’s the lure of natural therapeutic essences in the surroundings of scenic beauty. Simply put, there is no better place to unwind and rejuvenate than in Ein Gedi country.

Located on the western shore of the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the planet, Ein Gedi is the site of some of the highest concentrations of medically beneficial minerals in the world. As if that is not enough, the depth of the region allows for maximum filtration of the sun’s otherwise harmful rays, and the higher air density naturally lowers blood pressure while supplying the body with additional oxygen.

It is no wonder that King Solomon, touted as the wisest man to have lived, extolled the virtues of Ein Gedi in his writings, and the prophet Ezekiel described wonderful visions of its landscapes.

At the heart of the region sits Kibbutz Ein Gedi and its adjoining resort hotel, the Ein Gedi Country Hotel, the only populated botanical garden in the world.

My husband and I were welcomed to a semiprivate narrated tour by long-time kibbutz member, Daniella, who cheerfully takes visitors around in her golf cart, showcasing the fragrant wonders that span the entire kibbutz, including the cactus garden interspersed within. The botanical garden boasts a wide range of desert plants from the four corners of the world, as well as tropical flora from various rain forest regions, grown with no exceptional cultivation techniques. Biblical plants such as myrrh and frankincense grow among date and other palm trees, as well as Sdom apple trees.

Daniella pointed out a small zoo, miniature golf course and an Olympic-sized pool with spectacular views of the Jordanian mountains to the right and the mountains of Ein Gedi to the left. She did all of this while simultaneously explaining the history of the kibbutz, which is nothing less than a modern-day miracle, a man-made oasis amid a barren desert that was founded in 1956 by a group of army recruits who dreamed of making a home in the Judean Desert.

The rooms offered by the hotel are as varied as the gardens that surround the kibbutz. Among the options available are the Botanical Garden Room, surrounded with a tranquil desert garden environment; the Romantic Room, with luxurious Mideast-themed décor and a Jacuzzi; and the Arugot Room, decorated in a rustic desert style with views of the Wadi Valley.

Meals at the Ein Gedi Country Hotel are delectable. Breakfast features a combination of continental and Israeli buffets, including 10 varieties of cheeses and yogurts. Dinners are equally sumptuous, with soups and meat, fish and poultry dishes and a Viennese table for dessert. However, anyone allergic to nuts will find themselves without much of a dessert selection.

Despite the stunning grounds and the amenities offered at the kibbutz, I suspect that this is not what keeps tourists coming back. It’s something in the air that makes you feel like you are floating through the day, drifting about in a magical oasis without a care in the world. The locals say it’s the bromide in the air that has a calming effect. According to our guide, even people with one lung breathe well in Ein Gedi due to the increased circulating oxygen.

We returned to the lobby and noticed a sign that read: “Unwind and detach yourself from daily stress with yoga under the baobab tree at 5 p.m.” That must be for newcomers, because I can’t imagine anyone feeling an ounce of stress here.

Our attention turned to the holistic treatments offered at the kibbutz’s Resort Hotel. Ayurveda treatments are offered for additional charge, but we decided to forgo those in favor of visiting the Wellness Centre at Ein Gedi Spa, which is free to guests of the Country Hotel.

The spa, on the shores of the Dead Sea, is only a short ride away by free shuttle service from the kibbutz lobby. A range of treatments, from Swedish massage to Thai or Shiatsu therapy, are offered at the spa, as well as mud wraps, peeling treatments with Dead Sea salts and aromatic oils, designed to remove dead skin cells and leave skin silky smooth.

We proceed to survey the grounds of the Ein Gedi Spa, nature’s treasure-trove in the deepest of the earth’s depressions.

There were a few tourists by the mud area in the late afternoon when we arrived. We joined them spreading mud over our entire body, scalp included, letting it work its wonders in silence.

I noticed that a number of men had an abundance of mud in their hair, covering their entire scalp. Apparently the mud is known to draw blood circulation up to scalp, and increasing blood circulation can encourage new hair growth.

We showered in hot sulfur spring water, and I relished in the oily residue that would renew my skin.

Floating in the Dead Sea, warm and buoyant, was an experience in itself. The exceptionally high salinity and variety of minerals dissolved in the sea provide both chemical and mechanical therapeutic action.

After rinsing off once again, we were treated to a swim in the spa’s freshwater pool and a late-afternoon snack near the solarium, where people with various skin disorders alternated sunning themselves with bathing in the thermo-mineral baths or in the Dead Sea to get relief from their ailments. The treatment is so effective against various auto-immune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, that the Danish government pays for its citizens requiring such care to spend one month a year at Kibbutz Ein Gedi and its spa.

For less than $5, the kibbutz offers guided hikes through the nearby nature reserves of Ein Gedi National Park, known for its natural sweet water springs and waterfalls, which flow between two wadis.

Flowing from a hill in the center of the oasis is the Ein Gedi Spring, which supplies mineral bottled water to the Israeli population, and runs from the taps of all faucets at the kibbutz. Close to the spring intersect several trails that lead to the Najar Scenic Overlook, the Dry Canyon and the David Waterfall.

In addition to a Masada tour, the kibbutz also offers a 45-seat safari jeep with half- or multiple-day Judean Desert excursions, including a moonlight tour, a biblical weekend trip and a Spice Route trek.

At the end of a wonderful day, it’s as if I’ve been given a taste of the Garden of Eden. Ein Gedi is a true delight for the senses, a retreat for the mind and body, a place where heaven meets earth and the rare spot where man lives in perfect harmony with nature.

For more information, visit

Catskills Memories


For Rita Lakin, memories of the 1950s at Grossinger’s, the famed Catskills resort, bring up thoughts of three five-course kosher meals per day, plus a runway-length buffet for guests who missed breakfast — served one hour before lunch. Then there were the Saturday night shows that featured a Hollywood headliner, a dance team and a comic.

Her new musical, “Saturday Night at Grossinger’s,” fetes the businesswoman behind the food and the entertainment, Jennie Grossinger (1882-1972). As the show opens, it’s a Saturday night in the 1960s, and Grossinger (Barbara Minkus) must entertain her own guests when headliners Judy Garland, Alan King and Red Buttons are detained by a blizzard. She and her family spontaneously decide to put on their own play, outlining the history of the hotel, which was “Las Vegas before there was Vegas,” Lakin said.

We learn how Grossinger and her parents turned their failing Catskills farm into a summer boarding house, circa 1920, for Jews seeking refuge from sweltering New York City; how the hotel blossomed into an American institution, largely because of Jennie Grossinger’s talent for booking top entertainers; and how stars such as Garland played the hotel, as did numerous comics who got their big break there.

The character of Sheldon, an amalgam of these comics, spouts shtick as thick as a deli sandwich.

“A woman came up to me today and said, ‘How do I lose weight at Grossinger’s,'” he says. “I said, ‘Go home!'”

“Saturday Night” was conceived in the 1980s when television writer-producer Lakin (“Dynasty”) and the late Doris Silverton unsuccessfully pitched a TV series set in the Catskills.

“We felt that onstage we’d have a much better chance of doing something so Jewish,” Lakin said. So they visited the by-then-closed resort, interviewed Grossinger’s children and signed on composer Claibe Richardson and lyricists Ronny Graham and Stephen Cole.

Cole, who also wrote the book, incorporated Grossinger’s lore: how waiters danced with the single women; how the owners once smuggled a dead patron out of the resort (in the musical she’s danced out in a conga line); and how the workaholic Grossinger was “married to the store.”

The character is loosely based on the real businesswoman, and her daughter, Elaine Grossinger Etess, said she recognizes the “spirit” of her mother in the play.

$15-$30. Opens March 26 at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hollywood. For tickets, call (323) 851-7977.


Negev: Full of Adventures

Amid the gloomy statistics of declining tourism to Israel, there are a couple bright spots for the foreign visitor willing to explore beyond the beaten track and eager to save some serious money.

For one, there are few places in the world where the ancient and the modern meet and meld as spectacularly as in the northern Negev.

Throughout Israel, but especially in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, hotel prices have been slashed 50 to 70 percent. For anyone with a modest bank account who has hankered to see the sun rise over the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City from a luxury suite in the storied King David Hotel, or to view the sweep of Tel Aviv’s coastline on top of the David Intercontinental Hotel — now is the time to go.

Even for the veteran visitor to Israel, the recent trip laid on by the country’s Ministry of Tourism was an eye-opener.

The starting point for any exploration of the northern Negev is Beersheba, a site where the Abraham settled more than 4,000 years ago, and which the Bible mentions even before Jerusalem.

Over the last 53 years, the "Capital of the South" has transformed itself from a sleepy Bedouin oasis into a city of 200,000, whose residents hail from 63 countries.

The most recent wave of immigrants over the past four months have come from Argentina, who were preceded by the Russians, who make up most of the city’s symphony orchestra.

The present economic situation in Beersheba is difficult, outweighing security concerns. But as Mayor Yaakov Terner, a veteran fighter pilot, police commissioner and a reassuringly tough, no-nonsense Israeli of the old school, put it, "We continue to live. No one can make us be afraid."

A symbol of Beersheba’s future is the handsome 16,000-student campus of Ben-Gurion University, whose president, Avishay Braverman, tells all comers that the future of Israel’s expanding population lies in the Negev.

Beersheba is the base and jumping-off point for explorations of other parts of the northern Negev, by jeep, camel, or, for the more intrepid, by foot.

Some 53 miles south of Beersheba lies Mitzpeh Ramon, about 3,000 feet above sea level. Until recently, the town’s main claim to fame was the 25-mile-long Ramon Crater, a stunning feat of nature, formed over hundreds of millions of years.

Sometimes dubbed "Israel’s Grand Canyon," the Ramon Crater is still a magnet for geology buffs, hunters of marine and dinosaur fossils, hardy hikers and seekers of spiritual repose, but now the town itself is attracting its share of tourists.

With an energetic push from a group of young activists, Mitzpeh Ramon is transforming from a failed industrial development town into an artistic center, with a distinct touch of 1960s Haight-Ashbury. A hangar has been taken over by a "healing dance" company, a former ceramics factory houses a gallery and teepee-like sleeping accommodations, and mini-entrepreneurs produce soaps, oils and sandals.

Just outside Mitzpeh Ramon, in another unexpected Negev encounter, is a ranch where llamas and alpacas, far from their native Andes Mountains of South America, are successfully bred for their high-quality wool.

Leading north from the Ramon Crater, one can follow part of the ancient Nabatean spice route to Avdat, along which the incense, perfume and spices from India and the Arabian Peninsula were transported by camel to Gaza and the Mediterranean coast.

Later incorporated into the Roman empire, the Avdat area is the site of a reconstructed Byzantine fortress of the fourth century CE, and includes remnants of Nabatean agriculture, utensils and pottery workshops.

Heading north, back toward Beersheba, lies Kibbutz Sde Boker, where David Ben-Gurion, the Negev’s most famous resident (well, next to Abraham) spent most of the last 20 years of his life, and where he shares a simple gravesite with his wife, Paula.

The hut where the Ben-Gurions lived has been turned into a museum, with a 5,000-book library. His vision of the Negev as the thriving home for millions of Jews has yet to be fulfilled.

In the meanwhile, the area’s often harsh and rugged beauty, still largely unspoiled, beckons the more adventurous tourist.

Violence Harms Israeli Economy

With images of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip flashing across television screens around the world, it did not take long for Israel’s tourism industry to start feeling the pinch.

Hotel occupancy has plummeted, Ben-Gurion Airport is deserted and taxi drivers and tour guides have lost a big chunk of their income as cancellations of planned trips have flowed in.

Despite the impact on tourism and other industries, especially those that rely on Palestinian laborers, the crisis is unlikely to harm economic growth in the Jewish state this year because there is often a lag between political instability and economic fallout.

Since the crisis broke out at the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2000, its impact on this year’s overall statistics will be limited. However, business experts say, next year could be a different story.

“The tourism industry is always the first industry to be affected all year round from the geopolitical situation, and safety and security are the main pillars for the industry,” said Abraham Rosental, chairman of the Israel Hotel Association.

“We have been in crisis before, but this time it is different, because nobody knows exactly how far it is going to go and when it will end.”

Before the crisis, Israel was on course for 3 million tourist arrivals, which Israel had promoted as part of the Christian millennial year.

It was expected to be a record year for the industry, which makes up about 3 percent of the Israeli economy. Now, at least 10,000 of the hotel industry’s 35,000 employees are at risk of losing their jobs, as are many more workers in other tourism-related fields.

In the short term, Rosental’s only hope is that Jews around the world will choose to show solidarity with Israel by visiting.

But even if large numbers of Jewish tourists suddenly order solidarity packages with Israel, it will not be able to prevent the crisis affecting other areas of the economy.

Other industries already hit hard include construction and agriculture. Even though these sectors have increasingly relied on foreign labor during the past few years, Palestinians still made up a big part of the work force.

With the West Bank and Gaza Strip sealed, many kibbutzim and other settlements have no means of harvesting, and building contractors are often without enough manpower to complete projects.

All of this has happened just as the Israeli economy was finally pulling out of a four-year economic slowdown.

Gross domestic product, which measures all goods and services produced in an economy — and is the main indicator of overall economic health — has grown about 2 percent in each of the past three years. Just before the crisis broke out, the Israeli government estimated the economy would grow at a robust rate of 5.8 percent.

But late last month, the government lowered projections for economic growth in 2001 from 5 percent to between 4 and 4.5 percent.

At the same time, in anticipation of massive layoffs in tourism and other industries, it raised unemployment forecasts from 8.1 percent to 8.4 percent.

Some economic officials add that Israel should count its blessings. The economy is in better shape than ever before, with strong growth and low inflation of about 1 percent.

“This does not mean we will not be affected if the unrest continues,” said Avi Ben-Bassat, director general of Israel’s Finance Ministry. “But we are entering this period with a stronger economy than ever before, and that will enable us to endure more easily.”

According to conventional wisdom in the business sector, Israel’s high-tech industry, which has been the engine for economic growth in recent years, will have a greater ability to withstand political volatility.
The biggest sign of this came on the October day that President Clinton announced a truce in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

The same day, Marvell Technology, a communications equipment company from California, announced that it would acquire Galileo Technology of Israel for $2.7 billion in a stock deal.

However, there are already signs of weakness in the industry, which has always been considered immune to the political ups and downs of the region and more affected by the U.S. NASDAQ exchange.

“It may become much more difficult to attract foreign investors,” said one Israeli venture capitalist, speaking on condition of anonymity.

While hoping for an end to the worst violence before the economy suffers too greatly, financial analysts are assessing the potential impact of a drawn-out conflict.

“This is much more significant than high-tech,” said Jonathan Katz, chief economist at Nessuah Zannex Securities, a Tel Aviv brokerage firm. “If there is gloom and pessimism, people will certainly shop less and go less to malls and restaurants. They will also be more wary of taking on increased debt or mortgages when their future permanent income is uncertain and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”