Remembering Vidal Sassoon


It was only a few weeks ago that I was sitting with Vidal Sassoon in the living room of his sprawling Bel Air home. It was a chilly early evening and we warmed ourselves by the heat of the fire that was roaring in the fireplace.  We were drinking green tea – it was always green tea for Vidal – and he’d been reflecting on his earlier years in Hollywood.

He stared at me intently across the coffee table, his eyes probing mine.  Penetratingly. And then with a sudden sigh, he leaned forward and carefully, softly, uttered the words.

“I’ve got leukaemia,” he revealed flatly.  Before I could react, he inhaled deeply and added, “I’m really quite ill.”

He saw the shock in my face and continued softly, “I’m resigned to it. I’ve had a wonderful life. A fantastic life.” He gave a slight smile that was tinged with sadness. “I can’t complain. I’m 84, I just had my birthday a short while back. It’s been a fabulous ride.

“I got diagnosed two years ago but I wanted to keep it quiet. Now it’s progressed and I have to go to the hospital for treatment a couple of times a week. My life revolves around that now. And reading.  I used to swim every day for exercise but I don’t have the energy to maintain that regimen.

“I get terribly tired. It’s very difficult for me to walk far. I have to rely on a walking stick, in case I get into trouble. Some days I’m okay, others I’m just overwhelmed by tiredness.

“But what can you say about it. I’m not in pain. I just get very tired easily.”

It was devastating news. I’d known Vidal since I was a child –  my ‘uncle’, Robert Zackham, was Vidal’s oldest friend and working colleague, and my hairdresser father had partnered Robert in his salon, where Vidal often came to visit.

Our last rendezvous took place very recently. We’d talked on the phone some days earlier and arranged that I’d go to his house a few days later. I wanted to capture some of his memories for a BBC radio documentary I was writing.  He was happy to oblige. “As long as I’m fine on the day,” he added cryptically before ringing off.

Little did I know that it would be his last interview.

His house on Mulholland Drive on the outskirts of Bel Air was partially hidden behind a clump of trees, the number barely visible from the road. Like his previous home in Beverly Hills, it could only be reached via a long, winding driveway flanked with exotic trees and plants. It felt like driving through the Botanical Gardens.

When Vidal emerged from his bedroom and walked down the long hallway, its walls showcasing exquisite sculptures, I was shocked to see him looking frail and gaunt. He was leaning on a cane. “I use it to keep myself steady,” he waved off my concerned questions and offered a swift smile. “I’m no spring chicken after all.”

He had lost weight since I’d seen him last. I put it down to his health regime. He was always a health nut. And he spoke not slowly, yet without speed. I put that down to his having had a busy day.

I was so wrong.

In the vast living room of Vidal’s architecturally-magnificent minimalist home, we sat in front of the fireplace and reminisced. He felt a tremendous pride in everything that he’d done and last year documented it all in his autobiography and a riveting documentary. Yet behind the pride lay a humility. Often self-effacing, never arrogant, Vidal’s demeanour was dreamy and reflective. 

Every now and then, Ronnie, his devoted wife, popped into the living room to check that all was fine. On one appearance she was followed by their two little grey Lhasa Apsas, Lulu and Yoyo. On another, she brought with her a blanket which she lovingly draped over Vidal’s lap in case he got cold. His faithful manservant brought tea for us and with it a plate of English biscuits.

We’d just been discussing some of the voluminous tomes on art and architecture that adorned the room. His passion for the subjects knew no bounds. And he was as knowledgeable on each as if he had made them his life’s work. He viewed hairdressing that way. As architectural shapes. Works of art.

Then he had dropped that shocking news.

There was always something about Vidal Sassoon that set him apart from other men. It wasn’t that he was the best haircutter in the business, although he was. It wasn’t that he was the most famous hairdresser in the world, although he was that too. And it wasn’t that he had turned rags into riches, which he had.

No, it was his gentleness that stood out. Moving in a world notable for being cutthroat, Vidal was that most unlikely of souls –considerate, gracious and very gentle. Devoid of arrogance, he exuded confidence, yet with it a humility, rare in one so successful and ruling over a multi-million dollar empire

In early years, I often saw Vidal (‘Viddy’ to my parents) at hairdressing functions. My father sometimes let me play truant from school and took me with him when he was entered in one of the international hairdressing shows. He knew they excited me and he harboured hopes of my following in his footsteps. I remember one occasion – I must have been about 10 – when my father was designing the hair of a beautiful blonde model and Vidal was doing the same in the next chair with a brunette Miss World. I watched him, glued to his hands, fascinated by the way he worked. Deftly and with immense concentration. Snipping creatively and running his fingers through the hair and letting it swing back naturally into shape.  Layer after layer.  Building the form. He could have been layering and designing a block of flats the way he went at it.

In later years he told me he had always approached hairdressing geometrically, like architecture which he adored. If his mother hadn’t had other plans and if he’d been able to have an education, his dream would have been to become an architect. (“To me, architecture was the extreme art form.”) But in those war years, kids from the East End didn’t have a lot of choice over their career directions. Especially when they came from a single parent home – his father had abandoned the family when Vidal was three; when he turned 5, his mother put him in an orphanage for seven years because she couldn’t afford to keep him.

She’d had a premonition that Vidal would become a hairdresser, so for her there was no question about it when she carted him off to Adolph Cohen’s Whitechapel salon where he became a shampoo boy at 14 by day, while at night vicious German bombs lit up the skies “and rearranged the streets of London”.

He secretly joined the underground Jewish group, The 43, a group determined to quell fascism and anti-semitism. Vidal was its youngest member and was horrified by some of the things he had to witness and even carry out himself. He finally dropped out when it became too violent for him but he continued throughout his life to fight against anti-semitism.

He became a dedicated friend of Israel. A devout Zionist like his mother, in 1948, at 20, wanting to do his bit in the fight for Israel’s independence, he joined the paramilitary arm of the Israeli army and fought in the Arab-Israeli War. Israel remained in his blood to the end and he visited many times. At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he later established the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism. Stamping out anti-semitism remained a fervent pursuit throughout his life.

He would have stayed in Israel had his family not needed him back home. He returned to London and to hairdressing. Just a few years later, in 1954, at 26, he opened his first salon in Bond Street.

“I decided if I couldn’t change things from the hairdressing art form into what I considered architectural hair cutting art form then I would leave the craft,” he told me.

He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and revolutionized the industry by turning hairdressing into an art with his headline-making cuts.

Vidal was the quintessential ladies’ man. With his dazzling smile and keen eye that always spotted the best in a woman’s face he was able to design a cut and style that played up her bone structure. (“You cut according to the angles of the bones, the body, the shape. You never cut to make people look pretty. That’s not what it was about. That was the old way.”)

His ‘Sassoon look’ became the fashion of the day. Movie stars and ordinary people flocked to his third floor salon.  It was there that Vidal lopped off 4 feet of Nancy Kwan’s hair. And where Mia Farrow and Lee Radziwell – “she always said she’d bring her sister (Jackie Kennedy) but it never happened” – were among his huge clientele.

After opening a salon in New York, he eventually moved to Los Angeles and landed a television talk show. It was short-lived but established his immense popularity among those who only knew him through his slogan “if you don’t look good, we don’t look good”.

Vidal was a raconteur par excellence and never failed to amuse with a story or two. One of his favourites revolved around a meal in a Moscow restaurant when a bunch of menacing looking Russians walked in.

“These guys heard us speaking English and one of them leaned across the table and said ‘Bobby Charlton!’  I’m a soccer fan you know. So I said ‘Lev Yashin!’ who was the great Russian goalkeeper. ‘Aah, Lev Yashin!’  So then they ordered vodka. And it kept on coming. Well after Pele and Bobby Moore and goodness knows who else, I finally staggered out of there. But we’d made these great friends who hugged us as we left. They couldn’t speak a word of English and we couldn’t speak a word of Russian. Just footballers’ names. And so much vodka it was ridiculous!”

Vidal had four children, the oldest of whom, Catya, died of a drug overdose. He never recovered from the pain of losing her.  But with his fourth wife, Ronnie, 23 years his junior – they met when he was 62 and she was 39 – he found a tranquility that had been previously missing. For 20 years, Ronnie was his anchor. And “my tower of strength throughout this illness.” 

His legacy will be the phenomenal contribution he made to the world of hair fashion. But it will also be his lifelong devotion to Israel and its causes. And his efforts to quell anti-semitism.

“You do what you can in this life,” he told me once. “And if what you do can make a difference then that’s all you could ask for.”

Vidal Sassoon made a difference.

Can Tel Aviv become a center for fashion?


For Israeli fashionistas, last week’s inaugural Tel Aviv Fashion Week proved what they’ve known for years: Israeli fashion is creative, current and worthy of worldwide attention—and, hopefully, sales.

“I wanted to help my business and help my country,” said organizer Ofir Lev, deputy CEO of the Israel Textile and Fashion Association and a former model. “I wanted to show that there is fashion and creativity in Israel.”

Lev drew on his extensive contacts abroad to bring together foreign fashion writers and Italian star designer Roberto Cavalli in Tel Aviv for the three-day fashion fest.

While the Israeli fashion scene has been around for decades, starting with Lea Gottlieb and her Gottex swimwear empire, it has been many years since there was any kind of public fashion extravaganza.

[SLIDESHOW: Fashion Week in Tel Aviv]

In the 1970s, a fashion week was held twice a year at the Tel Aviv Hilton, recalls designer Gideon Oberson, who is also known for his swimsuits, and buyers came from the United States and Europe. But the Israeli manufacturing industry then was quite different, with at least a dozen fashion companies manufacturing entire collections for export.

“Now we don’t have companies doing fashion, but we have solo designers, at least four or five talented ones emerging each year,” Oberson said. “I think this fashion week was created to offer information, to create a bit of a hubbub and make some noise.”

And, of course, to generate orders and positive media coverage. But does Tel Aviv have any chance of becoming a major stop on the fashion circuit?

Lev says he’s already planning another Fashion Week for next April. He’s intent on getting Israeli-American Elie Tahari as well as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Italian designer Miuccia Prada and fashion luxury house Dolce & Gabbana on board. Everyone is just “two phone calls away,” Lev says.

The challenge is to get everyone to Israel, and the country’s reputation as a dangerous place—albeit undeserved—makes it an uphill fight.

“We have to battle with a Wild West existence,” said designer Dorit Frankfurt, who heads a well-established Israeli label that exports overseas.

Frankfurt, who has manufactured her collection since 1983 at her own factory in Tel Aviv, showcased her spring collection during Fashion Week.

For Sasson Kedem, a creator of artsy, architecturally styled pieces for women who also served as a mentor on the one season of “Project Runway Israel,” said Tel Aviv Fashion Week—referred to here as TLV FW, in Fashion TV style—was an opportunity to show the world that “we’re not just about bombs.”

“We’re very clever,” Kedem said, referring to his fellow design colleagues. “But we are different because of this place. We have passion, and we have to grab our opportunities because no one can take our inspiration from us.”

Lev and his partner Motty Reif, a producer known for Beverly Hills Fashion Week, say Israel’s security situation is part of what encourages Israeli fashion creativity.

“It’s not an easy life here, it pushes us to be very creative, makes us think differently and improvise,” Lev said. “We’re brave because of the situation we live in.”

Israeli designer Dorit Bar Or, center, acknowledging applause with models at the close of her show at Tel Aviv Fashion Week, Nov. 21, 2011. Photo by Meir Partush/Flash 90

A handful of well-known Israelis already are established in the fashion world, including Alber Elbaz from the Parisian house of Lanvin and designer to the stars Yigal Azrouel.

Well-known Israeli designer Ronen Chen, who exports his women’s collection to the United States and Europe, was conspicuous in his absence from Fashion Week. He said the timing wasn’t good—he’s already working on next winter, and the shows focused on spring 2012—and he acknowledged a certain amount of ambivalence regarding the concept.

“Here in Israel, we don’t do shows in order to get orders—there’s just a link missing,” he said. “Department store buyers aren’t going to come here to order our clothes because we don’t have a long enough track record, we don’t have the standards necessary. I just didn’t know if it was worthwhile.”

Designers had to spend some $7,000 each on runway shows, and some of the younger designers split the costs, with each sharing a half-hour show with one or two others. Lev estimated that the week cost about $2 million, including costs for flying in Cavalli and the fashion writers, and putting them up at Tel Aviv hotels. He did snare some sponsorship, including from Maybelline USA and several Israeli companies, such as the women’s magazine HaIsha and retailer Renuar.

Still, it wasn’t easy. The city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa did not offer any financial assistance, except for free space at HaTachana, the recently refurbished Ottoman-era train station in Jaffa. Lev likes to compare Israel to Denmark, a similarly sized country that sponsors a 2 million euro fashion week each year.

“The growth of the Israeli design industry was 8 percent last year; that’s something,” he says. “That’s a lot and I want to show it off.”

Lisa Armstrong, a journalist for the British Telegraph, wrote about Israeli soap star and designer Dorit Bar Or, the designer of Pas Pour Toi.

“Israeli editors declared the local flavour of her collection a bit parochial,” Armstrong wrote. “To outsiders, it was exotic: entirely black (despite the enviable climate, they’re not exactly embracing The New Colour), with impeccably executed gold embroidery, a lot drawn from Arab designs—and gorgeous gold earrings in the shape of leaves that curved up the lobes.”

That’s the idea, says Kedem: Israel is not Paris, but Israeli designers excel at “translating the land.”

“You see the Mediterranean in our clothing,” he said. “We do intimate clothing that offers the feel of our country.”

Israeli designers works on display in Milan


An exhibition showcasing the work of 45 Israeli designers will be featured at the International Furniture Salon trade fair in Milan.

Called “Promisedesign 2011—New Design from Israel,” the exhibition, which runs through April 17, features more than 65 innovative design projects ranging from furniture to light fixtures to technological products to automobile parts.

Curators Vanni Pasca and Ely Rozenberg said the aim was to “present the multiple faces of design in Israel,” a reality they said had been dubbed “the best-kept secret in the world of design.”

After Milan, the exhibit will be shown in other European countries, including France. The curators said its display in June will mark the first time an Israeli design exhibit is shown in Paris.

Calendar Girls picks and clicks for April 26-May 2


SAT | APRIL 26

(FILM)
Winner of the Camera d’Or prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, “Jellyfish” is another example of the remarkable cinematic explosion of Israeli films garnering ” target=”_blank”>http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com.

(BENEFIT)
Saddle up your horses and head to Burbank for a lively Western-themed benefit, Wells Fargo’s “Hollywood Charity Horse Show,” headed up by one of the most iconic starship captains of our time, William Shatner, a.k.a. Capt. James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise. Let loose your yeehaws and yipees as the knife- and whip-wielding troupe Rancho Indalo Riders wow the crowd with their daring riding tricks. Then croon along with country music superstar Randy Travis as he serenades the crowd during a good ol’-fashioned country dinner party. Don’t forget to tip your cowboy hat to Ahead With Horses and the Camp Max Strauss Foundation, two incredible organizations that focus on the needs of children in Los Angeles that will be receiving the proceeds of this event. Sat. 4 p.m. (silent auction), 5:30 p.m. (arena show), 7 p.m. (dinner and concert). $250 (individual tickets), $2,500 (per table). Various sponsorships available. Los Angeles Equestrian Center, 480 Riverside Drive, Burbank. (818) 840-9066. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.sholem.org.

SUN | APRIL 27

(FAMILY)
Drape yourself and your children in white robes and flowing gowns mimicking the Israelites who fled from Pharoah in ancient Egypt during the “Interactive Family circle@circlesocal.org.

(THEATER)
Love, deceit, betrayal and political corruption are all themes coursing through the veins of the heart-racing play, “The Spark of Reason.” A sister’s revenge can be brutal. Throw in a lover’s deception and a teacher’s betrayal to the historic 24-year-old Baruch Spinoza’s trial for heresy in 1656 — carried out by the Jewish community in Amsterdam — and you’ve got one blisteringly dramatic play. An eclectic cast will rile your deepest emotions in a staged reading written and directed by Michael Halperin, inspired by a true story. Sun. 3 p.m. Through May 18. $10 (suggested donation). Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. R.S.V.P to sparkofreason222@yahoo.com.

MON | APRIL 28

(BOOK SIGNING)
Have you ever been curious as to why so many Jews in America have latched on to the ideals of the left? Join historian and professor Tony Michel as he paints a detailed, lively portrait of the Yiddish socialist movement, along with the American Jewish experience, during a conversation about his newly released book, “A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York.” Examining the movement through in-depth research, Michel will share insights on Yiddish secular culture and Jewish left-wing activism emerging from social conditions on New York’s Lower East Side. Strike up a conversation with Michel as he signs a copy of your book during an event co-sponsored by Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, Reboot and the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies. Mon. 7 p.m. $5 (suggested donation). Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. (213) 389-8880.

(FOLK DANCING)
Have you always wished you could jump in and do the hora flawlessly at weddings? Have you wanted to join the merry circle of dancers after Shabbat services but been too embarrassed to try? Has your girlfriend been begging you to come with her to one of Los Angeles’ big dance sessions? The new beginner’s folk dance class at Temple Kol Tikvah is your chance to learn how to folk dance — from step one! Learn the basics at your own pace with the charming Cecilia of Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble. Before you know it, you’ll be swaying and side-stepping, laughing, making friends and burning some calories, too! Mon. 7-9 p.m. $10. Temple Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 784-0344.

Got Sababa?


More fashion for a cause? You betcha. After all, why “Livestrong” when you could “Get Sababa?”

Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Livestrong” bracelets to benefit his cancer foundation are already passé. But hoping to start a fashion craze of her own, 27-year-old Traci Szymanski has launched Get Sababa, a clothing line in progress, complete with the now-requisite rubber-band bracelets. (Hers are blue-and-white tie-dye.)

Szymanski, a DVD producer, never affiliated herself religiously until her work on a DVD for the Kabbalah Centre made her think twice. She’d been raised in an interfaith family — her father is Catholic and her mother is Jewish — and said she’d never had an interest in Israel either.

“Before I was like, ‘I’m not going to go to a war zone, but kabbalah provides tools for me that I feel protected,'” she said.

Those tools allowed her to feel safe on a trip to Israel she took two years ago, but more than that, she said, “Going to Israel, it changed my life, my whole world, my whole perspective. This passion came out after being in Israel and realizing the history of the Jewish people.”

“[Coming back from Israel,] I wanted to wear something with Hebrew writing on it and I couldn’t find anything aside from oversize shirts from Mr. T’s,” she said referring to touristy spot on Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda Street.

She also wanted to help the country she now felt tied to. She wanted to help her Jewish homeland, she said, and she also wanted something cool to show her Jewish pride. The solution seemed obvious. She decided to make her own shirts and then donate the profits to Israeli organizations like the Israel Defense Forces and Magen David Adom.

In seeking the perfect goodwill logo, the word “sababa,” which means “cool” in Arabic and Hebrew slang, seemed the perfect choice, showing Jewish and Israeli pride without alienating people.

“I wanted it to be something very mainstream,” Szymanski said. “I wanted it to be something that isn’t so serious or political or religious. Something just cool that any young person or anybody of any age thinks it’s cool to wear.”

Szymanski decided to partner with Oranim Educational Initiatives, an organization that works with Birthright Israel and other philanthropic funds to subsidize travel programs for young Jews. Together, they created Get Sababa, and thus a clothing line was born.

In one day they sold out the first round of some 500 T-shirts emblazoned with the word “sababa” in Hebrew and English at a Birthright event in Israel. The line has been selling steadily at Birthright and other Jewish events, as well as through the Web site, getsababa.com.

The shirts now come in a range of 12 colors and styles, from tanks to 3/4-length sleeves. The latest ones have moved on from simply “sababa,” to the addition of an English slogan below: “Are you sababa enough?” The wristbands read “GET SABABA” on one side, and sababa (in Hebrew) on the other side. Shirts range in price from $20 to $30 and wristbands are $5.

Szymanski has started slowly, but would like to promote the brand more extensively in the future. She was featured last week on Leeza Gibbons’ “Leeza at Night” radio show, although the L.A. airdate is as yet unknown.

Still, locals who are interested will be able to purchase them in person at Szymansky’s booths at the UCLA Israel Independence Day Festival on May 12 and the Israel Festival in Woodley Park on May 15.

Szymanski also plans to expand the brand into a full clothing line. Baseball caps are high up on the list, as are sweatsuits with the logo across the back. She even has her sights set on high-fashion items.

“I’d like to do a line where sababa can be on anything,” she said.

For more information, visit

Holy Knots


 

Red string. A whole ball of it. That was what a dear relative in Los Angeles asked me to bring her from Israel when I come to visit.

But not just any red string. It has to be the kind that vendors hawk at the Western Wall. That is, it has to be the stuff from which you make a bendel — a wristlet that wards off evil, restores health and makes barren women fertile. It has to be the stuff that Madonna has turned into a fashion item and that sells for $26 a throw. And there has to be lots of it.

My first reaction is incredulity.

“It’s just string!” I bellow at my laptop. “Just red string.”

Then I counsel myself, “Have respect for someone else’s talisman. You, too, have secret ways of cajoling the hostile forces around you.”

My 90-year-old mother-in-law, who was born in Jerusalem, says that when she was a child no one had heard of red string. It was red ribbon then, and a bit was tied around her wrist after she recuperated from typhus.

The string’s sanctity (and hence its efficacy) derives from its having been wrapped seven times around Rachel’s Tomb. Rachel is one of the four biblical matriarchs, and religious women seek her intercession for everything from a good husband to a cure for cancer.

The wrapping should be easy, I think. But Rachel’s Tomb — on the road to Bethlehem just outside Jerusalem, where I live — is in the territories, neighboring the Aida refugee camp. The building is now a fortress shrouded in a concrete casing. No one enters or leaves without the permission of security personnel. The only way to get there is by armored bus.

Egged, the national bus company, has regular service to the tomb, except on special days, like this one. So first I have to get to the roadblock on the road to Bethlehem and then hop an armored bus.

“When do you leave?” I ask the driver.

“When the bus is full,” he replies.

There are only two other passengers: a modestly dressed teenage girl and a bearded young man in a black suit and hat. But there’s hope. “It’s the eve of Elul,” says the black-suited passenger. Elul is the month of penitence that precedes the Jewish New Year, a time when many religious Jews visit holy places to plead for good health and prosperity in the coming year.

“I just got here from the Machpela Cave,” the burial site in Hebron of Abraham and Sarah, he announces with a grin.

Tomb-hopping seems to be a turn-on.

Suddenly a crowd materializes and starts boarding. From the back of the bus comes the call, “There’s another seat here for a man.” (Religious men and women don’t sit side by side.) In the aisle, men and women of all ages have become one sweating mass.

When it seems there’s no oxygen left, the bus sets out on the five-minute run to Rachel’s Tomb. We pass the Lama Bros. shop and the Jewelry Center, once filled with tourists and now shuttered — victims of the intifada.

The scenery ends as the bus enters a concrete womb. The passengers are hurried into the building by nervous security people. Anyone outside makes an easy target for snipers.

Signs direct us to the men’s section and the women’s section, both in a domed room. And there is the tomb: about eight feet tall and eight feet wide, covered by a navy blue velvet cloth embroidered with symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel. An embroidered inscription implores the Lord to bless “the woman who comes to Your house as [You blessed the biblical matriarchs] Rachel and Leah.”

A plastic cover protects the embroidery.

Ahead of me, as I get as close as I can, at least 30 women are jammed together in rows of six. Those in the first row lean against the tomb, their faces and hands pressed against the plastic. They mouth their prayers inaudibly; the only sound is of their weeping. Teenagers and gnarled grannies, all are crying as they beseech Rachel to intercede for them. It’s hard to ignore the intensity of their prayers. It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s only a tradition that marks this spot as Rachel’s Tomb. There is no way to circumnavigate the tomb; partitions separate the men’s section from the women’s. I reduce my ambition to touching the string to the sacred spot.

A short, heavyset woman pushes in front of me. She has iron-spike elbows; in a trice she’s at the tomb. I motion to Iron Elbows to take the string and do the deed for me.

With the now-sanctified treasure back in my hand, I head for the bus. As we board, I ask a middle-aged woman in a blond wig whether it’s always this crowded on the eve of Elul.

“You’re just lucky you didn’t come on the eleventh of Cheshvan, the date of Rachel’s death,” the woman answers. “Then the tomb is really mobbed.”

Yes, I’m lucky. And I have the red string.

Esther Hecht is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem.

 

The Circuit


Power Lunch

"One land, one people, one bond."

A powerful slogan for any organization, but all the more powerful coming from State of Israel Bonds, which held its "Women of Power" annual spring luncheon, organized by Israel Bonds’ Golda Meir Club, at the Four Seasons Hotel.

This year’s gifted females in the spotlight: Grammy-nominated pianist sister act Mona Golabek and Renee Golabek-Kaye, overachieving Jewish community volunteer Annette Shapiro and Michele Bohbot, who with life partner and business partner Marc Bohbot, forged a fashion empire with their Bisou Bisou label.

More than 200 people packed the luncheon, which was a who’s who of Mrs. Hollywood: Marilyn Hall, wife of "Let’s Make a Deal" host Monty, and Shirley Turtletaub, wife of veteran TV producer Saul Turtletaub and mother of feature film director Jon Turtletaub. And, of course, there was the grand dame herself, beloved emcee Rhea Kohan, wife of veteran TV writer Buzz and mother of "Will & Grace" co-creator David, who kept the crowd in stitches with her verbal sleight of hand.

Kohan wasted no time skewering the other end of women with power: Heidi Fleiss, Monica Lewinsky and Anna Nicole Smith.

Shapiro, who has contributed to the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, The Jewish Federation and Beit T’Shuvah, was visibly moved by her honor. She thanked husband, Leonard, for supporting her volunteer efforts in the Jewish community over the years.

"My husband and I," Shapiro said, "we share our 55th anniversary within a month of the State of Israel."

The Fez, Morocco-born Bohbot, who moved to Los Angeles from Paris in 1987 and helped build a company that nets $80 million annually and has 350 employees, touched on the anti-Semitism she encountered in both Morocco and France. The mother of seven shared her Jewish pride with the room and her glee with her husband, who was in the audience waiting with a bouquet.

Before performing at the function, Golabek and Golabek-Kaye told the poignant story of how parents Michel and Lisa, through good fortune, survived the Holocaust to find each other. The sisters said that their mother, before she passed away, urged them to always use their talents, as Mona put it, "In service of your people, in service of Israel and for the betterment of mankind."

Carole Shnier, who is on the committee to organize Israel Bonds’ fall mother-daughter fashion show, has enjoyed being active with the organization since 1997.

"It’s been rewarding in terms of meeting interesting people," Shnier said, adding that she believes in the cause — supporting Israel.

Investing in Israel Bonds is an investment in Israel’s economy, stressed organizers. The champions of State of Israel Bonds — the Western region’s own women of power, including club President Beverly Cohen and Women’s Division Director Myrtle Sitowitz — explained the mechanics of how contributing to the organization multiplies financial support for Israel. For example, buying bonds at a $750 annual investment over five years translates into $100,000 windfall for various areas of Israel’s infrastructure.

Also in attendance: Iris Rothstein, luncheon co-chair with Hall; Joyce Black; Diane Glaser; Marilyn Ziering; Rosalie Zalis; Beverly Hills Courier publisher March Schwartz; and Mr. Blackwell, whose introduction made everybody in the room just a tad fashion conscious.

Big Mack

The American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Los Angeles chapter honored John Mack, the Los Angeles Urban League’s president since 1969, with the C.I. Neumann Lifetime Achievement Award at its 58th annual meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Both organizations have been "successful in making Los Angeles a more livable city for all people," said Peter Weil, AJC chapter president.

During his acceptance speech, Mack emphasized that no one group has a monopoly on virtue or vice. Reducing the city’s growing violence is not just a "problem for African Americans or the poor," he said. "We need everyone to be involved."

Mack believes that geographic divides compound Los Angeles’ problems and that there is a need to redouble efforts to get to know each other.

"Mutual respect can get us through the difficult times," Mack told The Circuit, adding that he would like to see Angelenos "reinvigorate the enthusiasm of the Tom Bradley era."

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism, delivered the keynote address on the future of interfaith work. He said that while religious pluralism challenges us on a deep philosophical level, it’s crucial to learn the traditions of others in a city with such tremendous diversity.

"You need to learn to get along," Dorff said. "Interfaith relations are not just a matter of not killing each other."

Also in attendance: City Council members Bernard Parks, Jack Weiss and Wendy Gruel; City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo; Police Chief William Bratton; Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Rabbi Harvey Fields; Julie Korenstein, Board of Education president; KTLA reporter Larry McCormick, and Dr. Steven Windmueller, director of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve


Tired of wearing designer clothes and lining the pockets of fashionistas?
These days, clothing companies are banking on Jewish pride and charity as the
impetus for their labels.

Jewcy and Jewish Jeans are both joining a growing clique of
edgy Jewish enterprises, such as Heeb magazine and JDub Records that deliver
secular Jewish culture in pop culture formats.

Jewish Jeans (www.jewishjeans.com) donates a portion of its
sales to victims of suicide bombing attacks in Israel.  It offers shirts embroidered
with “Nice Jewish Boy” and “Single Jewish Girl,” and political messages such as
“Pursue Peace” and “Support Israel.”

“Whether you want to make a statement about your social
status or your political views, Jewish Jeans delivers powerful messages in a
stylish and fun way,” the Web site asserts.

The company was founded by Columbus, Ohio residents, Steven
Verona, 34, a successful inventor, and Daniel Wolt, 36, owner of a home
remodeling company who recently resigned his post as social director of the
Young Jewish Community of Columbus to work on the project.

Verona said he became involved in Jewish Jeans in an effort
to combat anti-Semitic sentiment and promote a positive Jewish image.

“Jewish Jeans allows you to make a statement of pride in
your heritage … proudly wear your Jewish Jeans clothing knowing that you
helping to make the world a better place,” the site promises.

Another label, Jewcy, is selling T-shirts, hats and
underwear branded with the bold “Jewcy” logo, in which the “W” is actually the
Hebrew letter shin.

“We did it purely to amuse ourselves, but it’s touching a
chord and that’s gratifying,” said theater producer Jenny Wiener, 34, who
conceived of Jewcy with her husband and business partner, Jon Steingart, 35;
Jason Saft, 25; and Saft’s boss, Craig Karpel, 36.

Although they don’t define themselves as actively religious,
the Jewcy people are proud of their heritage and believe there are enough
likeminded Jews out there to sustain a line of clothing, as well as what they
plan to be regularly scheduled live events.

According to the Jewcy.com Web site, being Jewcy means being
“pro-Manischewitz, pro-Jewfro, pro-Barneys Warehouse sale. It’s knishes with a knasty
attitude.”

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