The Paramount Hotel lobby.

Check In to Hotels, Check Out Decorating Ideas


Among my biggest design inspirations are hotels. When choosing a hotel, the first thing I consider is not the room rate or location, but how cool the décor is.

My love affair with hotel design started in the ’90s when, fresh out of college, I splurged on a New York vacation to stay at the Philippe Starck-designed Paramount Hotel on West 46th Street in Times Square. The moment I stepped into the hotel lobby, I felt the transformative power of interior design. Not only was every square inch of the hotel awesome to behold, the hip factor had rubbed off on me. Suddenly, I felt like a model in a Calvin Klein fragrance commercial — glamorous, mysterious and full of ennui. The only thing that could have made it better was a free breakfast buffet.

Now, whenever I stay at a boutique hotel, I take lots of photos that go into my inspiration file, and design elements from many of them have found their way into my own decorating.

The Paramount Hotel.

The Paramount Hotel.

Paramount Hotel,
New York City

Design inspiration: Upholstered headboard

My favorite part of the room at the Paramount was the giant upholstered headboard featuring a Vermeer painting. I had never thought that something as utilitarian as a headboard could be art — literally. I’ve since created framed, oversized headboards for clients that have depicted goldfish swimming around orchids, an angel sunbathing by the pool, and even a photograph of the exterior of Tiffany’s in Beverly Hills. (Sadly, the Paramount was sold to a hotel conglomerate in 2011, and the Philippe Starck décor is no more.)

Hotel Zeppelin.

Hotel Zeppelin.

Hotel Zeppelin, San Francisco

Design inspiration: Typography

Perhaps because I’m both a writer and a designer, I like the idea of decorating with words. Text is used quite whimsically in the rock ’n’ roll-themed Hotel Zeppelin in the Union Square district. The graphic wallpaper in the bathroom incorporates names of singers and bands in a retro font, giving new meaning to bathroom reading. And the overhead light above the bed surprises you with a message when you turn it on. Depending on your room, the word could be “love,” “peace” or “prosper.”

Door murals at the Hotel Max.

Door murals at the Hotel Max.

Hotel Max, Seattle

Design inspiration: Door murals

An artist-centric hotel, Hotel Max showcases the work of a different local photographer on each floor, covering the doors to each guest room with that photographer’s work. When I saw those doors, they really got my creative juices flowing, and I could not wait to do something similar. I got the chance when designing the Jewish Journal offices, and I needed to cover the dull wood doors that came with the space. I found vintage stock photos of reporters and newsrooms, had adhesive murals made of them and applied them to the doors. Walking down the hallway, it’s like a gallery.

Hotel Le Bellechasse, Paris

Hotel Bellechasse in Paris.

Hotel Le Bellechasse in Paris.

Design inspiration: Decorating the ceiling

Designed by Christian Lacroix, Le Bellechasse is a kaleidoscope of pattern and color squeezed into tiny rooms typical of Parisian quarters. Once you get over the puzzling fact that the bathtub is in the bedroom, you can appreciate the marvelous design details, like quirky wallpaper that extends across the ceiling. Lying in the bed and looking up, I truly appreciated the attention paid to the ceiling. It is valuable decorating space that is rarely used. Now, I always consider how to design above the eye line, whether it’s as simple as painting the ceiling or hanging an interesting light fixture.

Jerusalem, maybe next year: Passover bookings see sharp decline


By now, Gil Azoulay would have expected his hotels would be 80 percent booked for Passover.

Instead, Azoulay — who runs a chain of boutique hotels — has roughly half his rooms still available.

Azoulay opened Smart Hotels — a mini-chain of three small, midrange hotels that focus on providing personal attention to guests — in May 2014. Two months later, war broke out in Gaza, stunting Israel’s tourism industry. The months that followed saw a string of terror attacks in Jerusalem. Then, after a lull, a wave of stabbing and shooting attacks began last September and has yet to ease.

The conflict has taken a toll on Azoulay’s business, driving down Passover reservations 30 percent. Within the tourism industry, he’s not alone.

“The whole city is experiencing this decline,” he said of Jerusalem. “If once it was sold out for Passover and ‘chol hamoed’ [the holiday’s intermediate days], that’s happening less now.”

The Passover season is a significant income source for Jerusalem hotels. Bookings in April 2014 and 2015, the months of Passover, accounted for nearly 10 percent of the total hotel income for western Jerusalem in those years, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Hotels across Jerusalem have seen a fall in Passover bookings this year, according to Arieh Sommer, director of the Israel Hotel Association. While he estimated that hotels would have about 85 percent of their rooms booked ahead of Passover in a normal year, this year he says the average could be as low as 70 percent.

It’s a drop that began with the July 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. Prior to the conflict, in April 2014 — the month of Passover — Jerusalem hotels took in about $40 million. April 2015 saw a 10 percent decline, to approximately $36 million.

“Since Protective Edge, there have been problems in incoming tourism to Israel,” Sommer said. “We saw that after Protective Edge, tourism rose again. But because of [recent] difficulties in Jerusalem, there is a slowdown in tourists coming to Israel.”

Violence isn’t the only factor hurting Jerusalem’s hotels. Apartment rentals, booked through companies like Airbnb, have cut into hotels’ market share since long before the Gaza war. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Jerusalem hotels peaked at 10 million foreign guests in 2010. Since then, there’s been a steady decline.

“There was an assumption that the city was collapsing,” said Ilanit Melchior, director of tourism for the Jerusalem Development Authority. “The bottom line is that there was a decline, but it was not dramatic. During the intifada of the 2000s, the city proved it knows how to recover fast. There’s terror all over the world, not just in Jerusalem.”

And not all Jerusalem hotels are suffering. The Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, which opened in 2014, has reported a 200 percent increase in bookings over last year. General Manager Guy Kleiman attributes the rise to the hotel’s brand name and the praise in reviews.

The Inbal, another five-star hotel, expects bookings to remain relatively stable this year. Alex Herman, Inbal’s vice president of sales and marketing, told JTA that many of its Passover guests are repeat visitors to Israel who remain relatively unfazed by the unrest.

“This is a population that comes,” Herman said. “A lot of people have family here. Life goes on, life is OK.”

None of the hotels contacted by JTA have advised guests to avoid certain areas, nor changed their security protocols in any way. Kleiman echoed Herman, saying the Passover tourists in Jerusalem are often repeat visitors, and they know to avoid more dangerous areas.

“People are mature enough to know where to go, where not to go,” Kleiman said. “People who come to Jerusalem in these times know the city.”

Azoulay expects his hotels to withstand the decline, though he hopes calm will return soon and tourists will again feel comfortable walking the streets.

Like other hoteliers, he’s also counting on Israelis to support the Jerusalem hotels by choosing to spend Passover in the capital. While overall hotel bookings have declined in Israel in recent years, domestic Israeli tourism is on a steady upswing. Internal Israeli hotel bookings increased 9 percent between 2014 and 2015.

“We want the Israeli tourist to come, to reassure him that there’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “We need them. They should come to Jerusalem.”

Daddy’s Been Arrested


The final inch of the story turned me into an emotional puddle.

At 6 a.m. last Friday, the F.B.I. arrested Michael S. Steinberg, a 41-year-old stock trader for New York hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors, at his $8 million Manhattan co-op. 

This brings to nine the number of SAC employees indicted in the investigation of its founder, Steven A. Cohen, whose net worth is around $10 billion.  Four of them have pleaded guilty.  Apparently the F.B.I. is trying to reel in and flip Cohen’s conspirators in an alleged insider-trading scheme, and Steinberg – Cohen’s golden boy – is their latest catch.

The New York Times has been all over the SAC investigation, running front-page stories about how Cohen, even as the F.B.I. is now tightening its lasso on him, has gone on a shopping spree, buying a “>paying $155 million to casino magnate Steve Wynn for “Le Rêve,” the Picasso that Wynn had accidentally put his elbow through in 2006.  (Since Wynn reportedly had paid less than half of that to acquire the painting in 2001, Cohen seems to have gotten no discount for wear and tear.)

“>Natan, which “inspires young philanthropists to become actively engaged in Jewish giving by funding innovative projects that are shaping the Jewish future.” 

But to the F.B.I., Michael Steinberg was a high-level player in an insider-trading ring that illegally profited from secret financial data about technology stocks Dell and Nvidia.

Steinberg knew they were closing in on him.  Here’s the kicker to the Times story:

“Since his name surfaced in the investigation, Mr. Steinberg has occasionally spent evenings in New York hotels to avoid being handcuffed at home in front of his two children.  Federal agents refused to let Mr. Steinberg surrender of his own volition at F.B.I. headquarters downtown, expressing the view that white-collar defendants should not be given special treatment.”

Last week, Steinberg and his wife and kids had been visiting relatives and taken a trip to Disney World.  On Thursday, he returned to his Upper East Side place without them.  At dawn on Friday, the Feds came for him with the cuffs.

I can’t get those kids out of my mind.  They did nothing wrong, and they were spared what could have been a traumatizing moment.  But I can’t help thinking about what it was like learn the news from their mother on Friday.  It’s almost unbearably poignant to imagine their family life last week, during the final days of what they will inevitably think of as Before: the kids having innocent fun on the rides, oblivious of what’s to come, as their parents struggle to join the laughter and savor the last moments before After starts shadowing them forevermore.

Deterrence is one of our criminal justice system’s goals.  If Michael Steinberg pleads guilty or is convicted, his future punishment will also punish his family.  And yes, he should have thought about that ahead of time, while rising at SAC and accumulating the rich life’s rewards.  A front page “>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society and the martyk@jewishjournal.com.

For business or pleasure, hotels rolling out red carpets


The emergence of Israel on the global high-tech stage as a “start-up nation,” combined with the growing number of international business and Jewish organizational events held in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, has spurred a slew of major hotels to invest in upgrading their various services to discerning executives who endeavor to mix business with pleasure.

“The growth of social media, which includes business- and travel-oriented forums, has allowed our staff to engage with people who are planning business trips to Jerusalem and other points in Israel, offering them the opportunity to take advantage of the hotel’s varied services, many of which are tailored to the business tourist,” said Ilan Brenner, the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel’s executive assistant manager of sales and marketing.

The five-star hotel has regularly played host to a variety of business and organizational conferences in its various halls, including El Al, Hadassah and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“As there are several types of business travelers — ranging from the high-powered executive who seeks a luxurious WiFi-equipped suite with a terrace that overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem, to a salesperson who might want to conduct a private meeting with a colleague in our rooftop Executive Lounge — we can provide a variety of settings based on need and budget,” Brenner said.

In metro Tel Aviv, where the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and many of the nation’s top corporations are located, a number of the city’s finest hotels regularly cater to a business clientele. However, several hotels have tweaked their interior design concepts and external marketing agendas to discourage “family tourism” and focus almost exclusively on luring upscale business travelers.

The posh Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center Hotel, which has been built into the prodigious Azrieli Towers business, shopping and entertainment complex, prides itself on being a concept facility.

“We like to think of ourselves as a leader in the development of the business tourist concept,” said Michael Plesz, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center Hotel. “Nearly 60 percent of our customers are business people, 85 percent of whom come from overseas, including, of course, North America. The upbeat design of our public areas and rooms enhances the notion of a place where one can find the right atmosphere to do business and rest between meetings.”

In addition, metro Tel Aviv’s renowned beach, bar and restaurant scene is a magnet for business tourists. 

Want to know more about who offers the most enticing business and relaxation combination packages? We’ve compiled an abridged list of hotels that offer myriad business services and pampering perks:

JERUSALEM

Inbal Jerusalem Hotel

There are dozens of beautiful suites, executive or deluxe rooms to choose from in this venerable facility. The intimate Executive Lounge features a computer station, a variety of newspapers and magazines, light meals and snacks. In order to keep the lounge as an exclusive benefit, its use is restricted to guest staying in suites, executive or deluxe rooms. There is also a 24/7 business center featuring a variety of services upon request. There are special corporate rates available to companies that commit themselves to a minimal annual turnover.

Many local and foreign business people use the spa and health club in their after-hours down time to work off the daily stress and reinvigorate body and soul. The hotel also offers all guests free tickets to local cultural attractions.

For more information, visit inbalhotel.com.

David Citadel Hotel

The Executive Lounge, located high above the city, offers a majestic view of the Old City and provides a perfect setting for business people who wish to mingle, nosh or conduct one-on-one meetings. The hotel also offers a wide range of rooms that cater to the various needs of business travelers. Special arrangements can be made for private spa treatments in guest rooms or in the hotel’s new spa and health club downstairs. Private concierge service is also available for VIPs, which includes arranging special transportation to local events and cultural attractions. Private tour guides can also be arranged. The hotel plays host to a variety of business functions in its adjustable meeting rooms and halls. The David Citadel complex also boasts the critically acclaimed Scala Chef Kitchen & Bar as well as the rooftop Mamilla Café. For more information, visit thedavidcitadel.com.

Sheraton Tel Aviv Executive Lounge

TEL AVIV

Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel & Towers

The entire third floor has been reconfigured to meet the needs of business guests with a new business center, 12 newly designed guest rooms and meeting areas. The new guest rooms feature a work desk, ergonomic chair, WiFi and landline connectivity, flatscreen TVs, Nespresso machines, step-out balconies and soundproof windows that overlook the sea. In addition, all the new rooms feature a stall shower instead of a bathtub. “This is a new market trend, especially amongst the business travel community,” general manager Jean-Louis Ripoche said. “Most of our business guests are too busy to use a tub, or they are just not interested in it.”

The meeting rooms are complemented by a modular, multifunctional hall divisible by means of soundproof movable partitions, each with its own audiovisual equipment — LCD projectors, screens, bulletin boards — and coffee-break stations.

For more information, visit sheratontelaviv.com.

David InterContinental Tel Aviv Hotel

The David InterContinental Tel Aviv Hotel offers two new highly stylized business lounges — the Executive Lounge on the third floor and the Club InterContinental on the 24th floor. In addition, the redesigned Club InterContinental Lounge offers greater food diversity, improved décor and enhanced services. Both lounges offer WiFi and business services, including copier, printer and fax. The Club InterContinental Tel Aviv offers private check-in and check-out services as well as private concierge services with activities designed to match busy schedules, including the handling of itineraries and access to restaurants and shows at the last minute. The newly renovated Aubergine restaurant offers a business lunch specializing in Mediterranean delicacies infusing local cuisine with an international flair. The David InterContinental Tel Aviv offers a full-service spa and fitness center, as well as a ritzy sports and cigar bar called Inca.

For more information, visit intercontinental.com.

Jerusalem lodging boasts refined eatery, spa


JERUSALEM — It had been years since I’d ventured any farther than the lobby of the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, so when I received an invitation to tour its spa and one of its restaurants, it was hard to say no.

Built in the 1980s, the Inbal is one of the city’s top hotels and its facilities reflect this. Its staff is helpful and pleasant, and its health club and spa, which were refurbished two years ago, are top-notch.

One of the nicest things about the Inbal is its location in tony Talbieh. It’s within distance of the Old City and Western Wall, the many shops and restaurants on bustling Emek Refaim Street and the center of town. It adjoins Liberty Bell Park, which boasts a fantastic kids’ playground, outdoor exercise equipment, basketball courts and places to barbecue. In other words, a taste of the real Israel.

We began the tour at Sofia, the Inbal’s dairy restaurant. Adjoining the flower-filled terrace, the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows provide the feel of outdoor dining without having to sacrifice much-needed air-conditioning.

Sofia specializes in pasta and fish dishes that can be tailored to individual tastes. When I inquired whether some of the dishes could be prepared without dairy products — I’m lactose intolerant — the answer was a resounding “yes.” This was a welcome surprise; Jerusalem restaurants are rarely this flexible.

The menu includes champignon mushrooms filled with goat and parmesan cheeses, pine nuts and spinach stir-fried in butter and thyme; and melanzana: smoked eggplant, roasted peppers, pesto, diced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese in a baked phyllo shell in cream and white wine sauce. The fresh herb salad featured finely chopped herbs combined with breadsticks, with smoked mozzarella cheese shells, red onion, sliced olives and smoked salmon.

Fish courses include salmon filet cooked either in olive oil (on special request) or served with creamed peas, polenta, thyme sprouts, Parmesan and sautéed vegetables; and filet of trout marinated in fresh garlic, with diced potatoes, mushrooms, marinated in olive oil, capers, celery and red onions.

The apple pie, which was the only dairy-free choice, was creamy and delicious, but not as decadent as the Magic Meringue, a baked meringue filled with mascarpone cream, passion fruit, coconut sorbet and honey cream.

Satisfied and full, we headed to the health club, which includes a semi-Olympic pool that is covered and heated in the winter, a gym, a dry sauna and a spa.

The health club offers Pilates, aerobics, body sculpting and water exercise classes. The gym, which features all the equipment you would find in a well-equipped American fitness center, is large and modern. There are three personal trainers.

Health club director Dr. Ran Bibi, who holds a doctorate in sports management from the Wingate Institute, Israel’s National Centre for Physical Education and Sport, said the facility is “very successful because the staff is experienced and highly trained.”

Before receiving a massage, Rachel, the young immigrant from New Jersey who would be kneading the tension out of my body, asked me to fill out a medical disclosure/permission form. The room we entered was sleek, serene and spacious, with an exceptionally comfortable massage table, a bathtub-whirlpool and a separate shower.

Again, the staff responded well to special requests. When I asked Rachel whether she had some unscented oil (as opposed to aromatherapy oils), she searched high and low until she located a bottle of almond oil, whose scent is very subtle. When she learned that I had come straight from a big lunch, she started with reflexology to ease my digestion.

The Inbal’s spa offers a wide range of massages, including Swedish, deep tissue, Oriental, four-hand, hot stone and aromatherapy, as well as facials, body peeling and Dead Sea body wrapping. Prices for a massage range from $90 (Swedish, deep tissue) to $165 (four-hand). A hot-stone facial costs $130, and mud wrapping costs $115. 

Refreshed by the massage, I showered and headed to the pool, located right outside the health club. There I found a poolside café that prepares light meals, a sun-protected wading pool and the beautiful main pool, which is large enough for laps.

The few guests I saw that afternoon were seated on lounge chairs or doing laps. A swimming instructor was coaching a 7-year-old on her breast stroke.

Thoroughly relaxed, I entered the pool, where jets froth the water and massage the muscles. I knew I should go home and help the kids with their homework.

But I didn’t.

Inbal Hotel, 3 Jabotinsky St., Jerusalem, Israel, 92145. (972) 2-675-6666. For more information, visit inbalhotel.com.

Summertime Perks for Parents and Kids


What if you were able to check in at a top Israeli hotel this summer, wave goodbye to the kids at the front desk and then, minutes later, find yourself nursing a fruity Mediterranean cocktail by the sun-kissed pool?

A mirage? Nope, it’s the real deal!

A large number of quality Israeli hotels have worked diligently to perfect summertime family vacation packages that highlight a variety of perks, including indoor and outdoor activities for kids, chill-out spa and poolside amenities for parents and, last but not least, mesmerizing displays of sumptuous culinary experiences for the entire clan.

At one time, in the not-too-distant past, this summertime product was aimed at a mostly Israeli clientele. But as tourism to the Jewish state has risen dramatically during the past few years, Israeli hotel managers have tweaked their packages to appeal to American and European families.

“We have been anticipating this demand for summertime fun for the entire family from our overseas clientele for a while now. Based on the feedback that we have received, the hotel’s summer activities have become a key attraction for our guests,” said Ilan Brenner, assistant general manager for marketing and sales at the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel.

In addition to its unique locale (near the Old City) and beautiful interior and exterior architectural design, the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel has boosted its appeal by creating perks for families with children, including adjoining rooms and spacious family units, a poolside grill bar for adults and children, a kids’ club and pool, and a state-of-the-art spa and health club for parents.

Herods Tel Aviv lobby overlooks the beach.

“Because the hotel is isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city and located next to a very quiet park [Liberty Bell Park], the parents can actually sample a bit of paradise in the Holy City,” Brenner said. “We’ve tried to anticipate every detail, right down to featuring a kids’ TV channel. In other words, Mom and Dad can watch the news or a movie in peace in their room while the youngsters can enjoy ‘SpongeBob’ next door, without disturbing their parents.”

The hotel also offers a variety of family vacation packages, some of which include freebies to a number of cultural sites, such as the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, considered one of the top tourism venues in all of Israel.

Four- and five-star hotels within the larger chains invest considerable sums of money toward creating a variety of other fascinating tourism encounters. For example, the Fattal Hotel chain, which boasts 29 Israeli hotels under various brand names (Herods, Leonardo, Le Meridien), is renowned for its cultural and culinary family vacation packages.

“The Fattal chain has built a value-for-the-money concept that is based on a year-round vacation experience, not just summertime, which of course represents the height of the tourism season,” said Roni Aloni, Fattal’s vice president of marketing and sales. “At our resort hotels in Eilat, Tiberias and the Dead Sea, we offer several types of cultural happenings, from in-house entertainment troupes performing for the kids and adults, to headlining some of the top stars in Israeli pop music. All of these events are offered to guests free of charge, which has made our resort hotels a big hit with families.”

Leonardo (Fattal) Tiberias Hotel spa.

The Fattal chain also recently unveiled an ultra-chic business- and family-oriented hotel that highlights a unique time-travel experience. The new Herods Hotel Tel Aviv (the former Sheraton Moriah) has been redesigned from top to bottom to reflect the cultural grandeur of 1930s Tel Aviv, right down to the smart yesteryear uniforms worn by its entire staff. It’s akin to entering an Israeli version of a Hollywood movie set.

The Herods Tel Aviv showcases luxury accommodations with an outdoor pool, indoor spa and themed culinary offerings in the dining room and 1930s-style restaurants.

“We spent over $20 million remodeling the facility, in order to create a true theme hotel. It’s a unique property, with a unique environment located along the beautiful Tel Aviv beachfront that accentuates the best of everything,” Aloni said.

In addition to the Inbal Jerusalem and Herods Tel Aviv, the following are some top Israeli hotels currently offering special summer deals for families:

DAVID CITADEL HOTEL
The hotel’s new state-of-the-art kids’ club is a major feature at the luxury facility. The club highlights PlayStation and Wii games, a kindergarten with corners for stage performances, arts and crafts center, and a large movie screen. The Jerusalem-based hotel is also in the midst of putting the finishing touches on a series of renovations to its lobby terrace area, breakfast dining room, Executive Lounge and health club.

Danyland Kids Club at the Dan Accadia Hotel in Herzliya.

RAMADA JERUSALEM HOTEL
The hotel’s “We Love Kids” program encompasses comprehensive children’s indoor and outdoor activities as well as discounted children’s room rates. The hotel complex features a large, landscaped outdoor pool area and an indoor pool with a health club and sauna. The Ramada has also garnered a reputation for hosting lavish summertime simchas, including weddings and b’nai mitzvah in the main ballroom and out by the pool.

DAN HOTELS
The 14-hotel chain features Danyland kids’ clubs, which are run by an experienced, professionally trained staff. Each Danyland offers a variety of activities, including puppet shows, arts and crafts, sports, movies and cookery. During the evening hours, there are discos, talent contests, magic shows and other entertainment as well. In addition, each child who arrives during the summer receives a gift and vouchers that can be cashed in for a light snack. Dan Hotels hasn’t forgotten about teens and pre-teens. They have access to Danyland Teen Club, which offers sports activities, movies and more.

HOLIDAY INN/CROWNE PLAZA
Formal and informal entertainment for youngsters will be featured in almost all of the chain’s hotels during the daytime, along with nightly musical and stage shows for both adults and children. Guests who stay at hotels in Tel Aviv and Haifa receive free tickets to local attractions. Crowne Plaza Hotels in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are also renowned for their upscale kosher cuisine.

A room at the Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv Hotel.

ISLAND SUITES HOTEL
Located along Netanya’s beautiful coastline, this new hotel offers a variety of affordable family plans during the summer, highlighted by spacious suites (one and two bedrooms), family rooms, a fully equipped kitchen and a magnificent balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. The facility also boasts a large outdoor pool, kids’ pool, gym, rejuvenating spa with facial treatments, as well as wet and dry saunas. Island also offers a pool bar and a weekly poolside barbecue. During the summer, the hotel will debut its Bleecker Street coffee shop, featuring lunch and dinner menus. Some of the hotel’s other unique amenities include a shopping service and free bicycles.

SHERATON TEL AVIV
The pool deck has been adapted to children’s needs, including a pool for ages 3 and under, sports entertainment and table tennis. From Aug. 10 to Aug. 25, the hotel will feature a Children’s Arena, featuring free Internet, computer stations, PlayStation games, kid-friendly snacks and beverages. In cooperation with the award-winning Golan Heights Winery, the hotel is launching a wine stand in the lobby, where premium wines will be available for tasting and for purchase. As for entertainment, there will be a twice-weekly Jazz Night just before sunset, featuring cool music at the pool area overlooking the Mediterranean.

Political Journal


 

This month’s Political Journal is a tale of two labor disputes. One is dragging on and on; the other has come to a peaceful conclusion just when it seemed there might be a strike ahead.

Hotels Battle Continues

A protracted 11-month debacle continues between UNITE HERE, Local 11, representing workers at eight (formerly nine) upscale Los Angeles hotels and the L.A. Hotel Employer’s Council, representing hotel management.

The crux of the battle is the workers’ demand for a short-term contract that would expire in 2006, which is also when contracts would expire at hotels in cities across the nation. The unions would then be able to cooperate, strengthen their common positions and have more clout in dealing with the international hotel conglomerates (like Starwood) that own some of the hotels.

The L.A.-area hotels (Hyatt Regency, Hyatt West Hollywood, Westin Century, Sheraton Universal, Wilshire Grand, Millennium Biltmore, Regent Beverly Wilshire and Westin Bonaventure) have insisted on a longer contract that would extend past 2006, saying that national union concerns are not relevant locally.

At this point, there are no scheduled negotiations.

On the upside for workers, the hotels have stopped charging a $10-a-week health care co-payment, which was instituted last July, after management declared an impasse.

“We didn’t ask the union for anything in return, but we hoped that it would help bring them back to the table,” said management spokesman Fred Muir.

Not surprisingly, the union doesn’t think management canceled the fee out of inherent goodness. It points to a pending complaint by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in January, which is expected to allege that management broke NLRB rules when it declared an impasse and imposed the co-pay.

“They have not refunded any of the [health care] money they collected,” said union spokesman David Koff. “Should the NLRB ultimately prevail in its complaint, the hotels could be liable to repay this money with interest.”

Taking the issue to trial and through the appeals process could take years. The hotels contend Local 11 is using a delaying strategy to get 2006 as the date for its next contract by default.

“Every time we meet, they don’t want to meet again for a month or six weeks,” Muir said. “They basically want to keep this thing going until 2006.”

Koff responded that five independently owned hotels around the city (including the Hotel Bel-Air and the Radisson Wilshire Plaza), which usually follow the hotel council’s lead on these issues, have already signed contracts with the union that expire in 2006.

“If the Bel Air and these other properties can live with the deal Local 11 has proposed to them, there is little question that these other hotels could live with it as well,” he said.

In the meantime, portions of the L.A. Jewish community have become deeply involved in the dispute, consistently siding with the workers.

The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Workmen’s Circle have organized the Adar Hotel Workers Campaign, collecting $40 supermarket gift certificates for the workers during the month of Adar (Feb. 10- April 9).

“They’re not being charged [the co-pay] anymore, but regardless, they’re facing extreme economic hardship, and they’re still owed the $40 per month from before,” said PJA’s Jaime Rappaport.

The certificates are being collected at a variety of congregations around the city, including Leo Baeck Temple, Temple Israel of Hollywood and IKAR, to name a few.

Teachers Get a Happy Ending — For Now

Meanwhile, a second labor dispute, this one brewing for an amazing 18 months, has been settled peacably, which almost counts as a surprise ending. United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) reached a tentative agreement with the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) Tuesday.

For the past year and a half, teachers had been fighting for higher pay and more involvement and flexibility in the design of their own training.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, where what’s working in the Westside will work in South Central. The teachers in the classroom know what they’re dealing with; they should be included in the dialogue with the district, and that hasn’t been the case,” UTLA spokesperson Angelica Urquijo said the day before the agreement was reached.

In the preceeding week, a work-to-rule protest spread from West Valley schools to the rest of the district. Work-to-rule means teachers stop all the uncompensated work usually necessary to improve students’ education, such as spending unpaid hours after school tutoring children.

Urquijo said work-to-rule was meant to demonstrate how hard teachers really work, how the community of parents would stand behind them and how frustrating the interminable contract negotiations had become.

UTLA members reserved some frustration for their own president, John Perez, who was voted out earlier this month. He’ll be replaced July 1 by A.J. Duffy, a teacher who pledged to take a harder line against the district, especially on pay raises. That turn of events made the prospect of a strike seem more likely.

But just the day after work-to-rule went districtwide, the union and district reached an agreement running through June 2006. It includes a 2 percent retroactive pay raise from last July 1. The union also made gains on other contested issues, achieving a greater role for teachers in evaluating their own training programs and in providing more input on student assessmens.

Negotiators will go back to the table to discuss health benefits, which are funded through December.

Los Angeles in the past two years has trudged through a series of lengthy and painful labor disputes, running the gamut from supermarkets and buses to hotels and schools. At least LAUSD students, already working against the odds, won’t also have to overcome the fallout from a teachers strike.

 

Davening on the Lido Deck


On a recent Caribbean cruise aboard the MSY Wind Surf — the largest yacht among Holland America’s upscale Windstar fleet — the talk on deck was about war, nannies and the country’s best Catholic schools. Sunburned blondes lingered over a four-course dinner, featuring dishes such as bacon-crusted salmon and fresh pasta with shellfish.

In the understated, elegant dining room, Matthew Shollar, black kippah lost in a tangle of brown hair, sat too, eating a prepackaged glatt kosher meal with plastic cutlery. He spoke of the day a decidedly different clientele will board the ship: kosher-observant Jews, who will soon be able to — pardon the expression — pig out in the same manner as their non-Jewish, yuppie brethren, Tods bags and tzitzit in tow.

That day is coming soon: “The Chosen Voyage” will set sail this month, inaugurating the world’s first entirely kosher Caribbean cruise. While in recent years more and more cruise ships have specialized in trips offering frozen glatt kosher food or a separate kosher dining room, Shollar’s Chosen Voyage is to be the first luxury ship to be made entirely kosher, from bow to stern. For five weeks this winter, the 308-passenger Wind Surf will be transformed into an upscale frum paradise, featuring single-sex swimming, three kosher restaurants (two dairy and one meat) and an elegant lounge that will double as a synagogue on the Sabbath.

“The kosher-observant community has never been given a luxury of choice,” Shollar said. “All the dilutions we’ve taken in the past — let’s do away with that and get treated as a customer for the first time.”

The cruises are but the latest thing for a clientele that, either for lack of opportunity or by conscious choice, used to stay home. As Baby Boomers age, Jews and non-Jews alike continue to work, play and spend in manners different from those of their parents, opting for items more costly and luxurious. In the observant Jewish world, according to Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of Integrated Marketing, “there’s no question there’s been a dramatic increase” in high-end kosher products. In recent years Passover tours, kosher restaurants, even ritual baths, have all gone upscale.

Shollar is a self-described “serial entrepreneur.” His favorite word is “product” and he has a tendency to revert to e-speak such as, “We’re building a luxury brand into this space.”

His passion for cruising is almost ironic. He started his first business, Ecruise, “an online cruise loyalty system,” he calls it, without ever having set foot aboard a cruise ship. In order to walk the walk, he and his wife were sent on a three-day Bahamas cruise — where a kitchen gaffe forced the couple to eat snacks brought from home for half the journey.

On a recent sailing of the Wind Surf, Shollar served a dinner of frozen glatt kosher food — unidentifiable lumps of chicken, veal or turkey, paired with spinach and potatoes — to an assembled group of journalists from Jewish newspapers. Passengers aboard the Chosen Voyage, however, will be treated to the full WindStar menu — minus pork and shellfish dishes, of course — prepared in kosher kitchens.

The ship’s first-rate amenities include two swimming pools — allowing for single-sex dips — a spa and an onboard “marina” for water sports such as sailing and water skiing. The rooms are spacious, with ample storage space, and loaded with extras such as a CD player and VCR. The crew-to-passenger ratio is high: 191 crew for 308 passengers.

When the Chosen Voyage is sailing, the ship’s business center will be converted into a Judaica library and the wine list will be entirely replaced with kosher wines. Daily minyans will take place in the conference room, and on Shabbat the Wind Surf lounge and casino next door will be transformed into a sanctuary — with the slot machines and blackjack tables discreetly obscured, of course.

It all represents a rising trend among the Orthodox community, which is increasingly mirroring the tastes of American culture at large while staying within — or stretching, some argue — the bounds of tradition. It’s a phenomenon that Queens College sociologist Samuel Heilman calls “the theory of the leisure class, with a religious twist.”

“Among the ultra-Orthodox, leisure time is a problem,” Heilman said. “Time should be spent studying the Torah. Jewish tradition doesn’t have that concept. It’s an American concept; it comes from wealth.”

As such, kosher travel among the Modern Orthodox is increasingly big business.

“This year, 33,000 hotel rooms in the United States will be doing Passover programs,” said Lubinsky. “Look back 10 years ago and it was half that.”

As for cruising, the market “definitely is growing,” said Josh Post of Suite Life Kosher Cruises. Last year, he said, a single company sent 250 people on a kosher cruise to Alaska. “This year, between three companies, we have over 300 booked already. At this point last year we had 80 people booked.”

According to industry estimates, Jews constitute about 30 percent of cruise travel — despite being less than 3 percent of the American population. While more and more ships are taking steps to accommodate observant vacationers, making an entire ship kosher is no easy task — especially for a staff that has had little, if any, contact with observant Jews.

“First of all, what is kosher, hmm?” said Geert De Meyer, the Wind Surf’s Belgian food and beverage manager, of the preparations for the Chosen Voyage. “I didn’t know. The staff is very eager to please. They’re looking forward to doing something different.”

De Meyer has already received a manual from Kosher Supervision of America; soon, the ship’s chefs will fly to Miami for hands-on training.

Roughly 30 percent of Wind Surf’s business comes from charter cruises, and the crew is certainly familiar with an unusual clientele; among the specialty cruises each year are gay and lesbian cruises, musical cruises, even a nudist cruise.

Regardless, “this one will be a challenge — there are a few challenges, actually,” said the ship’s hotel manager, Francois Birada, with a nervous laugh. “This is new for our crew. It’s something we never did before.”

Shollar is nonetheless moving ahead full throttle. The Chosen Voyage’s first cruise will be for Chabad-Lubavitchers — Shollar’s community — and with the remaining four weeks, he aims to attract varying groups of singles, young families and groups such as federations and synagogues. By 2004, he hopes to take the Chosen Voyage to other markets, such as a summertime Great Lakes cruise.

Since establishing the Chosen Voyage last summer, Shollar has spent a handful of nights aboard the ship, which he now looks upon as a second home. In spite of long working days — and a family of six to care for — Shollar recently took a brief moment to enjoy the Caribbean sun as the Wind Surf docked alongside the island of St. Martin.

“It’s nice just sitting here knowing I’ll be surrounded by people who I may not know but who are my guests,” he said, motioning to the empty tables at the ship’s Compass Rose lounge. “That’s a powerful feeling for me.”

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Closed for the Duration


Whenever there’s a wave of terror in Israel, the nation’s hotels come up against a wave of cancellations, and the country’s entire tourist industry — from five-star hotels to souvenir hawkers — goes into a slump. But in a few months the terror and fear subside, and the tourists come back.

Not this time. "The tourism industry has never had a crisis of these proportions since the country began. Little by little it keeps getting worse, and nobody can see the end of it," says Mira Altman, director-general of the Tourism Ministry. "Hotels are closing, travel agencies are closing, tour guides haven’t worked in a year. The tourism industry is simply collapsing."

The crisis began in October 2000 with the outbreak of the intifada, and people stopped flying to Israel. Then came Sept. 11, and people stopped flying anywhere. Now two wars have to end — the one against Israel, and the one against America — before Israel’s tourism industry climbs out of depression. This could take years. The question is: If and when the wars end, will tourists wishing to visit Israel again have hotels, tour operators, guides and such to accommodate them?

The industry is now in a survival mode, firing workers, trimming services and slashing expenses like mad, trying to stay afloat in anticipation of "the day after," Altman says. "We’re not doing any marketing, any advertising," she adds.

The statistics for the year beginning October 2000 are in now, and they’re bleak. Some 40,000 of the 180,000 tourism employees lost their jobs. Industry-wide income fell from $4.2 billion to $2 billion. Hotel occupancy fell by 60 percent. Scores of the country’s 350 hotels closed whole floors, and 32 shut down altogether.

Hardest hit were Jerusalem — the No. 1 destination for foreign tourists — and the other cities that depend heavily on overseas visitors — Tiberias, Netanya and Nazareth.

The city of Jesus’ birth was counting on millennium tourism to boost its economy. Three big hotels were built in advance of 2000: the Renaissance, Marriott and Howard Johnson’s. All three closed in the last year, as well as the city’s five other, smaller hotels.

Some hotels are considering retooling and becoming office buildings. A couple of the smaller ones have turned themselves into immigrant hostels.

Now that the Jewish holidays are over, another 15-20 hotels are expected to close — bringing the country’s total to about 300, down from 350 a year ago. "I hope 300 is the bottom and it will go no lower," says Avi Rosenthal, general manager of the Israel Hotels Association. "But I don’t know. The way things are going, we can expect a few thousand more hotel rooms to shut down, and a few thousand more employees to be fired."

Food


Just one floor beneath the legendary Polo Lounge atthe Beverly Hills Hotel, there’s a large room that, for much of theweek, remains locked. The chef has the key. So does the cateringmanager. But if they ever want to so much as crack open the door,they can’t do so alone. First, they need the rabbi.

Inside is a kosher kitchen. Not your bubbe’s cozy efficiency, buta $500,000 state-of-the-art salle de cuisine, stocked with whiteLimoges china and Christophe silver. If it seems strange that afive-star luxury hotel, best known for catering to movie stars andmoguls, would invest keeping kosher, consider this: It’s not alone.

Kosher kitchens are springing up in the city’s best hotels, fromBeverly Hills to Woodland Hills. “This is absolutely, clearly thetrend,” said Rabbi Binyomin Lisbon, a hotel kashrut supervisor forKehilla Kosher of Los Angeles.

For years, the Century Plaza Hotel and the Beverly Hilton seemedto have a lock on kosher events. While those hotels still have thefacilities to handle the largest events, at least 15 four-starestablishments have begun to compete for a piece of what Lisbon saysis a steadily growing business. The Bel Age, Loews Santa Monica, theFour Seasons, the Warner Center Marriott and the Beverly Hills Hotelhave all recently added or built kosher kitchens. Other top-flighthotels, such as the Ritz Carlton Marina del Rey, the Sheraton Gatewayand Sheraton Grande, the Bonaventure, the Airport Marriott, theAirport Marina, the Beverly Prescott, the Hyatt Regency Irvine andthe Renaissance compete for the kosher trade by kashering theirregular kitchen on an event-by-event basis or using a dedicatedkosher kitchen. The Regent Beverly Wilshire is in the midst ofbuilding its own kosher kitchen.

Such growth takes off from the intersection of two trends. In thefiercely competitive world of high-class inns, hoteliers are ever onthe lookout for ways to bring in cash beyond just filling rooms. Andkosher food, long mired in the image of sweet wine and leaden kugels,has slowly been recast as both healthful and gourmet. The bottom lineof both developments is that kosher is good for the bottom line.”It’s been a big money maker,” said Dianne Greenberg-Dilena, directorof catering at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Three kosher jobs perweekend, serving up to 600 people per event, are becoming the norm atthe hotel. At the Loews, kosher catering jobs have tripled over thepast year. And the Four Seasons added a kosher kitchen last year tomeet increasing demand.

After an initial investment in facilities, hotels incur littleincreased overhead from going kosher. The mashgiach’s fee, around$750, is tacked on to a client’s bill, and the higher cost of somekosher food products, such as meat, is also passed client-ward. Akosher dinner will cost, on average, about $3 to $6 more per plate.The average per-guest kosher event charge begins at around $75 andcan climb to double that, depending on food and bar tabs.

The promise of such profit has made the business “hugelycompetitive,” said Debra Rosenberg, the Loews’ director of catering.”People always shop and compare.” Since prices are fairly standard,the playing field has shifted toward service, location and, mostimportantly, food.

The average kosher clients these days, Lisbon said, are notnecessarily Orthodox, but “middle-of-the-road” Jews who have come tounderstand that abiding by tradition requires no sacrifice inquality.

From their perspective, hoteliers have come to realize thatkeeping kosher in-house allows them to reach a whole new clientelewithout lowering hotel food standards.

At the Loews, Rosenberg is buzzing over the imminent arrival ofChef Alain Giraud. Formerly at Citrus, the much-lauded Giraud willtake over all food operations at the hotel, including koshercatering.

At the Beverly Hills Hotel, Chef Andreas Nieto offers dishes suchas seared ahi tuna on endive with aioli sauce and chicken and pignolinut strudel with a light roasted-garlic sauce. Even at the pre-GiraudLoews, you’ll find a richly glazed slab of barbecue salmon servedwith garden ratatouille — it’s a long way from gefilte fish.

The Loews’ Rosenberg, who will be teaching a class on kashrut forfood professionals this winter at UCLA Extension, said the trendtoward cooking with olive oil, stocks and reductions perfectlycomplements kosher cuisine.

Even so, not all chefs can abide by kashrut’s strict separation ofmilk and meat. When Lisbon informed a classically trained French-bornchef at one of the city’s finest hotels without kosher facilitiesthat, in order to win a particularly lucrative event contract, he’dhave to cook without cream or butter, the chef announced, “It’simpossible,” and turned down the job.

But most chefs Lisbon meets with are already fairly familiar withkosher requirements. As one of about six rabbis in town whospecialize in certifying the kashrut of hotels, Lisbon maintains astaff of 24 full- and part-time mashgiachs, or kosher supervisors.When he began his business 10 years ago, he employed two.

Before an event, Lisbon will meet with the hotel’s chef,purchasing director and catering manager to go over the foodpurchases — chefs may only use suppliers that Lisbon approves — andthe event schedule. “I tell them, ‘Just cook like you do in the mainkitchen, but use kosher products,'” said the affable Lisbon.

One sticking point, however, is scheduling. Since food for kosherevents cannot be prepared on the Sabbath, a Sunday-afternoon weddingwill require food preparation on Thursday and Friday and a pressuredproduction schedule on Sunday morning. Careful planning is crucial: Achef who failed to order enough thick-cut veal chops on Friday maynot be able to scare up enough kosher ones on Sunday, and running tothe corner store– if it isn’t kosher– is out of the question.

The locked kosher kitchens can only be opened and used with amashgiach present at all times. When the kitchen is not in use, saidthe Warner Center Marriott’s catering sales manager, Laura Ellis,”it’s not even looked at.”

Once inside, the mashgiach makes sure that the chefs andassistants follow kosher requirements, such as soaking and saltingsome vegetables to kill any possible insects. He — the Orthodoxsupervisors are always men– also checks for the kosher certificationof every foodstuff brought into the kitchen. If there’s a question,he can reach Lisbon via pager for a quick judgment.

The kosher supervisors’ fee, said Lisbon, goes to compensate theon-site mashgiach for his time.

Business among mashgiachs has been booming too. Most of the hotelsretain at least two to avoid scheduling conflicts, choosing fromamong Lisbon, Rabbi Yehuda Buxbaum, Rabbi Philip Schroit, and RabbiNissim Davidi of the Rabbinical Council of California. Most OrthodoxJews recognize the validity of all these rabbis. Some, however,refuse to eat in a hotel at all, said Lisbon. “They believe nothingcan compare to the standards of their own home.” Others call ahead tocheck which rabbi is in charge, and many will visit the kitchenduring the food preparation. For that reason, Lisbon maintains an”open kitchen policy” for the guests at all events he supervises.

The whole operation, repeated at numerous hotels around town manytimes each month, “goes without a glitch,” said the Marriott’s Ellis.Running an enclave of stringent Jewish dietary law within thesemodern-day pleasure palaces has become no more exotic than heating asauna. And Lisbon expects the trend toward the kashering of upscalehotels to continue. He has already fielded calls from hotels aroundthe Southland and in Las Vegas and Reno interested in adding kosherkitchens. “It’s a big investment,” he tells them, “and a helluva lotof work. But it can pay off.”

Finding Spirituality in the KitchenBy Rabbi Edward Harwitz

A few years ago, I was sitting with a friend at a luncheonreception when he noticed that I had eaten only plain salad. “Youdidn’t eat the shrimp. Does that mean that you follow the Jewishdietary law?” he said. I explained that I did keep kosher and,therefore, could not eat the shrimp or any other cooked food. He wasperplexed. “Those laws of kashrut,” he asked, “why do you need tofollow them today?” As I gulped hard and anxiously attacked my saladgreens, my friend continued to develop his argument. “Aren’t theselaws antiquated? Everyone knows that the only reason anyone ever’kept kosher’ was to protect one’s health,” he said. He suggestedthat technological advances in food processing and preparation madekashrut irrelevant. “As the threat of disease caused by foodsprohibited by Jewish tradition has been virtually eliminated, give meone good reason to keep kosher today!”

It is true that some have interpreted the laws of kashrut to bebased on the theory that diseases could be contracted from certainanimals. However, if my friend were correct that the only “goodreason” to observe the Jewish dietary laws centered merely uponhealth concerns, sufficient arguments for the abolition of kashrutcould be brought merely from the “Zone Diet” and the “Pritikin HealthPlan.” Rather, in order to know why Jews take the trouble ofschlepping to the kosher butcher, of storing two sets of everypossible dish and utensil, and of organizing their kitchens withgreat attention and care, it is important to consider the greatermeaning that can be derived from practicing the laws of kashrut.

In “The Guide for the Perplexed,” the 12th-century scholar,Maimonides, notes a number of social, cultural and ethical argumentsfor keeping kosher. He holds that kashrut directs us away fromslovenly behavior, prevents us from unintentionally engaging indisreputable religious practices, and reminds us to maintain concernfor other living creatures in the world. In particular, Maimonidessuggests that the method developed in Jewish law for slaughteringanimals “enjoins that the death of the animal should be the easiest”and should avoid unnecessary cruelty. Essentially, Maimonides arguesthat kashrut helps us to become more sensitive, intelligent peoplewith a stronger moral center.

Despite the powerful nature of Maimonides’ ethical arguments, tofollow and advocate for the laws of kashrut based solely on anintellectual perspective fails to fully comprehend his understandingof Jewish tradition or to fully consider the most important dimensionof the kashrut system. Maimonides does not seek to suggest thereasons for kashrut; rather, he seeks to identify the greater meaningthat can be derived from its observance.

Like generations of Jews that preceded and succeeded him,Maimonides begins his analysis of the Jewish dietary laws with afundamental assumption: We observe kashrut for the primary reasonthat it is a commandment of God. A Talmudic sage teaches that one whofulfills a mitzvah (a deed reflecting a commandment of God) receivesa “greater reward” than one who fulfilled the same deed as anexpression of individual free will. In a later commentary on thistext, we learn that the “greater reward” to be derived fromfulfilling a commandment is no less than building a relationship withGod and entering God’s realm. From this perspective, we acceptkashrut for the same reason that we accept the obligation forobserving the Shabbat, visiting the sick, engaging in daily prayer ordoing acts of tzedakah — to bring God’s presence into our lives.

Today, I would respond to my friend’s challenge in the followingway: The primary reason the Torah ordained and our Rabbis developedthe system of kashrut was to imbue the seemingly mundane act ofnourishing our bodies with a sense of God’s wisdom, power and love.Through kashrut, we transform our process of shopping for food,preparing meals, organizing utensils and arranging householdappliances into profoundly Jewish activities. In turn, we strengthenour Jewish identity and increase our spirituality as we allow God’swill to direct our decisions regarding eating. Although the nature ofone’s relationship with God is very personal, kashrut can serve as aprofound methodology for building this relationship and enhancing ourreligious lives.

As I completed that luncheon discussion with my friend, I was notyet able to completely articulate the reason for my bypassing theshrimp and accepting the laws of kashrut. However, as the years havepassed and I have studied our tradition and identified with theprofound religious nature of the kashrut observance, I have neverregretted the decision to order the salad as my main course.


Rabbi Edward Harwitz is the assistant dean of the ZieglerSchool of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.