Is Israel pulling down the shutters for business?


High-tech entrepreneur Eyal Waldman decided he had had enough of Israeli investors when they told him to choose between his titles of chairman and chief executive at the company he co-founded, Mellanox Technologies.

So in August, Waldman delisted the chip designer – Tel Aviv Stock Exchange's sixth-largest company, with a market value at the time of 6 billion shekels ($1.7 billion) – dealing a heavy blow to an ailing bourse that had already seen its chief executive and chairman resign a month earlier.

Waldman said the attitude of Israeli institutional investors, who had been empowered by changes to the Securities Law, was suffocating.

“Mellanox is not an impulsive company. (Delisting) is something we were thinking of, that we saw build up. This was not our place any more,” he told Reuters.

Since Mellanox delisted, a handful of Tel Aviv's largest companies have threatened to follow suit unless Israel becomes more business friendly.

The problem is the result of both more regulation and less.

Over the past decade, Israel has relaxed rules on overseas investments. Previously, Israeli pensions had to invest nearly 100 percent at home; now they can invest without limitation abroad. At the same time, over the past year the government has introduced securities regulations that Israeli companies complain make doing business far harder, including more stringent reporting requirements, pushing even more money out of the country.

The new regulations and other measures were an effort to help consumers and protect investors. Competition was subdued by the domination of a handful of conglomerates in the mobile phone, retail, construction and petrol distribution sectors, and consumers were struggling to keep up with bills.

In 2011, hundreds of young Israelis, angry they could not afford housing and bitter about the high price of groceries, set up a tent city in the heart of Tel Aviv's financial district and for weeks refused to move. This culminated in the largest demonstration in Israel's history, with 400,000 people demanding a more affordable cost of living.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted with a plan to break up the conglomerates that controlled vast swathes of the economy, opened up markets to competition and forced service providers to cut consumer fees.

The new regulations have brought consumers some relief – lower cell-phone bills and banking fees – but many investors and businesses say it is at a cost of dwindling profits and depressed share prices.

What upset Waldman most were amendments to the Securities Law that he could not have foreseen when he listed his company on TASE in 2007, several months after its offering on Nasdaq.

He was troubled by the empowerment of minority institutional investors, who previously had little influence at the companies in which they invested. New rules require majority approval by minority shareholders for issues such as executive salaries.

WILL OTHERS FOLLOW?

Officials at some of Israel's biggest firms have said that, like Mellanox, they are nearing a tipping point.

Potash producer Israel Chemicals (ICL), the most traded company on TASE, is seeking to list overseas. Though it has no intention at present to delist from Tel Aviv, CEO Stefan Borgas said in a conference call: “ICL must act seriously and take into account a situation of an additional worsening in the business climate of the Tel Aviv bourse.”

The same goes for Nice Systems, whose products analyze video and big data.

“It makes much more sense for us to trade only on Nasdaq,” CEO Zeevi Bregman told the Globes financial newspaper, but made clear a delisting was not on the agenda at this time.

Such talk has scared off investors. Daily trading volume on TASE averages around 1 billion shekels, 47 percent of the level in 2010. Other markets have had more moderate drops; since 2010 trade in London has fallen to 80 percent, on Nasdaq to 77 percent and Tokyo to 79 percent.

Only three small IPOs have taken place in Tel Aviv since late 2011, while about 100 firms, roughly 15 percent, have delisted since the end of 2009.

Investors are not pleased; one public relations firm, on behalf of clients, has launched a Facebook page called SaveTASE, blaming Israel's securities regulator, Shmuel Hauser, for the bourse's woes.

Part of the drop in volume followed a 2011 upgrade in Israel's status on the MSCI index from emerging market to developed. The move led to an exodus of passive money from foreign investors tied to the emerging market index.

Foreigners now account for only about 15 percent of trade on TASE in 2013, compared with up to 25 percent in 2010.

But the real drain has been the money that Israeli institutions have withdrawn as restrictions on overseas investments were lifted over the past decade.

“We are in the process of increasing our investment out of Israel, and this process … still has, in my opinion, a long way to go,” said Amir Hessel, chief investment officer of Harel Insurance and Finance, Israel's third-largest insurer.

Harel's pension, provident and life insurance funds have invested 34 percent of their 102 billion shekels in assets under management and 60 percent of their equities portfolio abroad, up from zero a decade ago.

Nir Moroz, CEO of Clal Amitim pension fund, said as much as 30 percent of his fund's assets were abroad, and that could hit 40-50 percent in the next few years due to a dearth of new local issuance.

Bank of Israel data shows pension funds hold 22 percent of their assets abroad, nearly double the level of 2009, while insurance funds hold 27 percent overseas.

FLOOD OF REGULATION

The protests of 2011 ushered in a flood of regulation that hurt profits in almost every sector – from cellular operators and food makers to institutional investors and gas producers.

Israel's three top mobile phone operators posted an average drop of 71 percent in net profit in the second quarter of 2013 compared with three years earlier, before new regulation and competition kicked in.

“There is a big risk of making business and investing in Israeli companies because of regulation,” said one investment manager who asked not to be named.

Hauser disputes that regulations alone have harmed the markets. Much of the regulation, he told Reuters, was aimed at curbing abuse of power by large stakeholders in companies at the expense of minority holders.

However, he said “the wave of regulation since the 2008 crisis may have gone too far”. He has proposed lowering the capital gains tax to 15 percent from 25, reducing fees for trading and clearing, and trading foreign currency.

With the public's cause taken up by the media, Hauser said it has become “illegitimate” to be rich these days, adding: “We have to stop with this populist atmosphere.”

Among the hardest hit by the new environment has been Israel Chemicals, which has made controlling shareholder Idan Ofer one of Israel's richest people.

ICL, which has an exclusive permit to extract minerals from the Dead Sea, paid 1.2 billion shekels in 2012 in taxes and royalties. A year after ICL reached a deal to double royalty payments to 10 percent, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a former TV personality who rode the social protest to political power, set up a panel to review once more the level of royalties paid.

CEO Borgas said ICL was worried about the “extraordinary level of uncertainty” in the business environment that the committee's appointment has created.

“Our international shareholders acknowledge this at every encounter,” Borgas told Reuters in an email, adding that this was reflected in ICL's share price, which fell over 15 percent in reaction to the committee's establishment.

Its shares were also hit when Canada's Potash Corp in April abandoned efforts to take over ICL because of strong political opposition in Israel.

Borgas, a former CEO of Swiss chemicals group Lonza, said he was concerned by the scope of regulation and the way it was conducted in what seems to be a response to populism.

“In the current situation we have a negative incentive to invest in Israel,” he said.

Israel's economy relies heavily on foreign investment and, like many countries, it provides grants and tax breaks to attract companies.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Israel's largest company and the world's biggest generic drugmaker, reaped close to 12 billion shekels in tax breaks between 2006 and 2011, according to the Tax Authority. It has come under huge pressure in recent weeks to review plans to shed 10 percent of its global workforce as part of a cost-cutting plan.

ICL was next at 2.2 billion shekels, followed By Check Point Software at 1.65 billion.

When these figures were published by the media in July, the public response was scathing.

Lapid has said he would reexamine the policy, but companies say the benefits are dwarfed by the jobs they provide and the money they contribute to the economy.

“Without this policy a lot of companies would have less business here and would pay less taxes,” Check Point CEO Gil Shwed told reporters in July.

Editing by Will Waterman

Tel Aviv eyeing way to let businesses open on Sabbath


The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality is working to change a city by-law that bans businesses from opening on the Jewish Sabbath.

City officials told the Israeli Supreme Court late Tuesday night that the municipality would not fine businesses that until now have opened consistently on Saturday.

In June, the court ordered the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality to enforce a by-law that bans its businesses from opening on Saturday.

On Tuesday, the municipality said it would fine new businesses that open on Saturday in contravention of the law. The by-law also will be enforced against businesses that disturb the public order.

At the same time, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai asked the city’s attorney to create an amendment to the by-law that “enables the existence of a day of rest alongside each resident’s freedom to enjoy it as he or she sees fit,” Haaretz reported.

The high court justices ruled in June that the municipality and two large supermarket chains violated the municipal bylaw against opening on the Jewish Sabbath. The court suggested the city could change the by-law to allow businesses to remain open on Saturday.

The owners of the small shops claimed they were losing customers to the chains that could afford to remain open on Saturday and absorb the modest fines levied for their transgression.

The justices also suggested that the municipality continuously violated the by-law in order to collect the fines.

PartyWorks Interactive Eric Elkaim’s party line


In a world of cutthroat businesses, Eric Elkaim still believes the “more you give, the more you receive.”

As the founder of Los Angeles-based party vendor PartyWorks Interactive, which rents out premium rides, games, entertainment and attractions to companies and individuals hosting special events, Elkaim has put that conviction into practice for nearly 20 years. 

Some of Elkaim’s high-profile clients include Vans Shoes, Virgin Airlines and Six Flags theme parks, as well as venues such as the Rose Bowl and Santa Anita Park. PartyWorks provides inflatable rides, sports courts, stages, live bands, arcade games, rock-climbing walls and much more for everything from corporate parties to conventions to premieres. Ditto for families throwing large-scale bar or bat mitzvahs. 

When PartyWorks isn’t supplying equipment to lavish events, the company is often working pro-bono for organizations that don’t have the resources of PartyWorks’ big-name clients. 

Foothill Unity Center, a Monrovia community organization that distributes food and provides services to very low-income families, is one of the recipients of Elkaim’s generosity. 

Throughout the year, the organization sponsors community events, including a Thanksgiving food distribution, a holiday food drive and a back-to-school drive. Thousands of people attend these events, and PartyWorks helps Foothill Unity make these events fun and exciting for attendees, donating tables, staging, lighting, giant menorahs, oversized chairs for Santa, and dance floors. 

PartyWorks also provides supplies and services that are less flashy, but just as important, such as a bouncer to help with line control as well as air-conditioning units. 

“Money’s not everything, and to seek a smile and give something at no cost, something they can’t afford, is an amazing feeling,” said Elkaim, 49.

Elkaim has been donating party and event supplies to Foothill Unity for more than 15 years and he never asks for compensation, “just because it’s a good cause.” He calls Foothill Unity one of the most important organizations that he assists, but there are many others. 

Elkaim’s PartyWorks began as a single popcorn-making machine. He founded the company in 1989 after years spent as a teenage performer around Los Angeles, working as a magician who incorporated comedy into his act during gigs at the Magic Castle, a nightclub for magicians and magic enthusiasts. Soon the people booking him asked if he could hire another magician to join him. 

Sure, he said. He could do that. 

Soon they were asking if he could bring along a face painter or a clown. Again, he said that he could.

Before he knew it, people were calling Elkaim to book entertainment for their events, including carnival booths and rides. He purchased his first popcorn machine and hasn’t looked back since.

A resident of Glendora, he isn’t your typical corporate head. In many ways, he still behaves like an entertainer. In fact, his professional title at PartyWorks is “director of all things outrageous!” 

True to his roots, Elkaim combines comedy with his professional life. In 2010, when he organized Mitzvahs and More, a bar mitzvah trade show that the Jewish Journal sponsored, he had radio station KLOS 95.5 FM air a humorous and Jewy plug for the event:

“At…the world’s largest bar and bat mitzvah expo, you’ll learn everything you need to know in order to party until you plotz.”

But perhaps more important to him than having fun is developing relationships — not just because these relationships are good business but because they come in handy for giving back to the community. 

Elkaim said he is particularly interested in helping soldiers and children. That is why PartyWorks donates resources to Soldiers’ Angels, which provides aid and comfort to members of the U.S. military, veterans and their families. 

In 2008, Elkaim used his connections in the entertainment industry to bring popular alternative rock band Angels and Airwaves to perform at a party that Soldiers’ Angels threw for wounded American soldiers who were recovering at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. And motivated by research that shows that playing guitar can help wounded soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder improve their memory, he worked with Gibson guitars to provide free instruments to wounded warriors.

Echoes of Hope, which provides assistance to at-risk and emancipated foster youth, is another beneficiary of PartyWorks’ goodwill. Founded by retired Los Angeles Kings hockey player Luc Robitaille, the nonprofit hosts annual celebrity no-limit Texas Hold’em tournaments to raise money and awareness for the plight of the youths it serves. Elkaim happily donates poker tables and other casino supplies to these tournaments. 

Other acts of generosity are more spontaneous. Sometimes, community organizations and nonprofits hosting events call to inquire how much it would cost to rent certain party equipment, and Elkaim simply offers it for free. 

A lot of his desire to be altruistic comes from being Jewish, he said. 

As he has gotten older, he said, “I started to believe in the Jewish way of thinking in giving anonymously. A true giver is somebody who doesn’t give to get their name on stuff as a sponsor. We do it because we want to.”

Israel cited in Caterpillar’s delisting from influential investment index


The sale of Caterpillar tractors to Israel was a factor, but not the determining one, in the delisting of the company from an influential index that prioritizes good governance and human rights.The move, however, is poised to further complicate the difficult ongoing conversation about Israel taking place between American Jewish gruops and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

A senior official at MSCI-ESG, a subdivision of MSCI, Morgan Stanley’s investment advice arm, said Caterpillar already had a low rating before its delisting earlier this year, in part because of its association with the Israeli army’s use of the tractors in the West Bank and past use in the Gaza Strip. The role of Israel’s use of the tractors in the decision also suggests that a sustained campaign by pro-Palestinian groups has had some effect, although officials at MSGI-ESG and one of its clients, the TIAA-CREF pension fund, deny succumbing to direct pressure.

TIAA-CREF’s divestiture amounted to $72 million in funds, dwarfing previous divestitures by liberal religious groups such as Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker group that divested $900,000.

The news of the delisting comes ahead of the biennial general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), where divestment from Caterpillar and other companies selling products used by the Israeli army, will be considered.

Ethan Felson, the assistant executive director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Jewish community’s lead official in countering the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement aimed at Israel—known as BDS, said that news of the MSCI-ESG decision would cause “damage” just ahead of the Presbyterian colloquy.

He said that linking Caterpillar to Israeli practices was “nonsensical,” noting that it had no say in how the U.S. military resells the tractors, and that it could not legally turn down the U.S. military as a client.

The MSGI-ESG official told JTA on Friday that what drove Caterpillar off the index was the company’s decision in February to shutter a London, Ont. plant after a high-profile dispute with employees. However, the official acknowledged several factors played into it, including the association of CAT with Israeli army practices in the occupied territories.

The death in 2003 of Rachel Corrie, an American pro-Palestinian activist, while she was protesting such a demolition in Gaza, helped spur the BDS movement forward. Corrie’s parents and witnesses say she was caught beneath an armored tractor.  The army denies fault and maintains she was killed by debris.

MSCI-ESG – ESG stands for Environment, Social or Governance – has as its clients a number of progressive groups that base their investments in part on social justice issues, including care for the environment, the treatment and safety of employees, and involvement in human rights abuses.

MSCI-ESG’s decision, made in February and effective as of March 1, came to light this week because of claims by groups associated with the BDS movement that a decision by TIAA-CREF – a pension fund for teachers and other academics – to divest from Caterpillar was a result of their pressure.

“It’s long past time that TIAA-CREF began living up to its motto of ‘Financial Services for the Greater Good’ when it comes to the people of Israel and Palestine,” Rabbi Alissa Wise, the national coordinator for “We Divest,” a coalition of several groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace, where Wise is director of campaigns.

Caterpillar, in a statement released to Jewish groups, once again denied direct sales to Israel of the D-9 Track-Type tractors.

“This is how it works,” corporate spokesman Jim Dugan said. “Caterpillar sells equipment to the U.S. government, which then transfers the equipment to the Israeli government, which then transfers it to the Israeli military.  Israeli is one of about 150 countries that take part in the program, which supports U.S. allies. For the D9s, the protective armor plating, the bullet resistant glass and other modifications take place after the machine has been transferred to the Israeli government by the U.S. government.  These changes happen after the sale, not in our factories. We hope and wish for a peaceful resolution to the unrest in the Middle East, but that solution is a political matter to be worked out by the appropriate parties.  Caterpillar does not and should not have a role in that political process.”

The Jewish Federations of America’s Israel Action Network derided the haste with which pro-BDS groups claimed credit for the divestment.

“Pro-BDS groups have constructed the ‘Caterpillar Myth’ that insinuates a conflict between the machine and the Palestinian people,” Geri Palast, IAN’s managing director said in a statement. “It is designed to invoke dystopian images, link BDS to specific Israeli policies and appeal to fear.”

Officials of TIAA-CREF, however, denied such pressure was a factor and pointed JTA to established policy that devolves such decisions to its “social screen vendor,” in this case, MSCI-ESG.

And while the MSCI-ESG official, who spoke on background, affirmed that Israel’s use of the tractors was one of several factors in the decision, he also said that an established methodology determines which company is listed and which is not, and that decisions are not based on representations from interest groups. The official’s emphasis suggested that shuttering the Canadian factory had greater weight than Israel’s use of the tractors.

Rebecca Vilkomerson, the Jewish Voice for Peace spokswoman said she was “confident” that representations by the We Divest coalition and other groups both to MSCI-ESG and to TIAA-CREF played a role.

In any case, she said, activism by groups such as hers has resulted in a “consensus in the human rights community because of its role in human rights abuses in Palestine, Caterpillar is not an ethical actor.”

Pro-Palestinian groups have for a decade campaigned against the sale of the tractors to Israel. Caterpillar sells the tractors to the U.S. military for resale to allies. Caterpillar says it does not determine to which countries the tractors are resold and how they are refitted for military use.

The pro-Palestinian groups, backed by a number of human rights NGOs, say that Israel uses the tractors to destroy Palestinian homes as a means of inhibiting growth and as collective punishment. Israel says the tractors are used to destroy illegal structures, and in Gaza were used until 2005, when Israel pulled out, to destroy tunnels used by terrorists for smuggling purposes.

Facebook IPO: Good for the Jews?


If the Talmud were written today, would it look like Facebook?

First, the rabbis of the Mishnaic period post a Jewish legal rule. Then, Talmudic sages weigh in with their comments, all pithy and lacking punctuation. Almost immediately, the comments grow far longer than the original post. Eventually, outside links to the Shulchan Aruch and Maimonides’ compendium of Jewish law appear on the right side.

It may sound too cute by half, but if you look closely, the Talmud and Facebook actually share similar layout.

They also share a few basic ideas about commentary and community. The Talmud enabled scholars who lived in different times and different places to argue with each other, creating a virtual community. Facebook allows people who live in different places and may not know each other to do the same.

“Every piece of information that’s offered opens up the opportunity for commentary, for amplification—whether it’s a link from The New York Times or something that happened to you at the Israeli Interior Ministry or an idea that you simply want to express.” said Esther Kustanowitz, a Jewish social media expert who works part time for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “And Facebook doesn’t just amplify the message, it expands the conversation.”

On the eve of Facebook’s initial public offering, scheduled for Friday, Jews—like everyone else—are still figuring out how Facebook can serve their personal or professional needs.

What started out in a college dorm room in 2003 as a way for Harvard students to rate women’s comparative “hotness” (it was then called Facemash.com) has morphed into a medium for more than 900 million people worldwide to communicate with each other, rally support or opposition, publicize news, make money, flirt and fulminate in ways both profound and mundane about the million and one things happening at any given moment.

For a few in the Jewish community, Facebook’s IPO raises the $64,000 question—or in this case, the $64 billion question—of how much of that newly created wealth will go to Jewish causes. The jury’s still out on whether Facebook’s Jewish creator, Mark Zuckerberg, will turn into a major Jewish giver following the IPO, when the just-turned 28-year-old figures to become one of the richest people in the world.

But the real story of Facebook’s impact on the Jewish world ultimately is likely to be more about the ways it is prompting Jews to change the way they think, behave, organize, and even mourn and celebrate than it will be about Zuckerberg’s tzedakah.

Facebook helped thousands of Israelis coordinate last summer’s socioeconomic protests, the biggest in Israel’s history. The site helped J Street turn from a fledgling, little-known upstart into a broad-based, left-wing alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Most Jewish community institutions, however, haven’t yet figured out how to maximize the potential of Facebook, according to Lisa Colton, president of Darim Online, a Virginia-based company that helps Jewish organizations adapt to the digital age.

Partly, Colton says, that’s because Facebook is inherently threatening to institutions.

“Facebook is about people more than it is about institutions. It supports individuals connecting with and learning from each other,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way for individuals to circumvent institutions.”

Facebook enables Jews to construct communities organized around areas of interest rather than geography, religious denomination or institution.

When Hindy Poupko Galena and her husband, Seth, began using Facebook to update friends and family about their year-old daughter’s fight against a rare bone marrow disease, a community of sympathizers quickly emerged that included thousands of people who had never met the toddler, Ayelet.

Strangers reached out to the Galenas—members of the Modern Orthodox community on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—not just with messages but with care packages.

“It allowed people to connect with what was going on on a very deep and real level,” Hindy said. “So many people came out of the woodwork and emailed me and said, ‘I had a sick kid and never told anyone about it, but I now feel that I can tell people about it.’ ”

Even now, months after Ayelet’s death in January at age 2, the Facebook-based community, which they call Ayelet Nation, serves as a source of sympathy for the Galenas.

“For a girl who only lived two years, it’s very comforting to know that people know her name, and I think that was only possible because of Facebook,” Hindy said.

Whereas many Jewish institutions define their community by who’s inside and who’s out—synagogues, JCCs and the Israeli Rabbinate, to name just a few—Facebook offers an opportunity for Jewish community with no bounds.

“It can take Jewish leaders off their pedestals and get them to interact with real people and real life in a multidimensional way,” said William Daroff, the director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America who has more than 3,000 “friends” on the social networking website. “And it’s not just about the Jewish world, but a place for us to talk about our kids and our dogs and the games we like to play and who we really are.”

As Facebook evolves, the Jewish communities it enables will change, too.

“I think it really is analogous to having phone lines, which later enabled faxes and early Internet,” Colton said. “With Facebook, it’s not about what we see and use today, it’s about what its foundations and widespread adoption make possible in the future.”

(Follow the author on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/people/Uriel-Heilman/714706314.)

Jewish businessmen in suit against GE allege discrimination


Two Jewish businessmen—a father and son—have filed a lawsuit against GE Financial Services, accusing the company of racial and religious discrimination.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that Harris Schwartzberg and his father, Albert, were subjected to anti-Semitic behavior from Richard Arrowsmith, their GE loan administrator.

Arrowsmith was “driven by an animosity toward the Schwartzberg family because of its Jewish ancestry,” according to the lawsuit, which seeks tens of millions of dollars in damages.

GE is fighting the charges and told futureofcapitalism.com that the suit was illegitimate.

The Schwartzbergs, who run 12 nursing homes in Louisiana, allege that Arrowsmith used “technical, curable defaults” to harass their company and deny them the funds they required to conduct their business—a series of actions that forced them to incur avoidable financial expense.

The lawsuit also asserts that the reputation of the Schwartzbergs and their health care business was tainted by Arrowsmith’s actions.

According to the lawsuit, Arrowsmith referred to the Schwartzbergs as “those people” to the duo’s chief financial officer, Julie Gutzmann, and repeatedly told her of his anti-Semitic feelings and his desire to conduct an “assault” on the Schwartzbergs and their business.

“We are GE—the 800-pound gorilla—we do whatever we want,” Arrowsmith said at one point, according to the filing.

Russell Wilkerson, GE Capital’s managing director of communications and public affairs, said it is company policy not to comment on legal matters, but that “the case is baseless.”

“The charges,” he told futureofcapitalism.com, “are false and egregious.”

Iranian Jewish investor guilty of fraud


An Iranian Jewish real estate investor in Los Angeles was found guilty of fraud after he was accused of stealing $21 million from clients.

Ezri Namvar, 59, was convicted May 19 in Los Angeles federal court on four counts of wire fraud and faces up to 80 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for August.

Namvar is accused of misusing $21 million of the $25 million garnered from the real estate transactions of four clients of his Namco Financial Exchange Corp. The clients had deposited the money with the company until it could be reinvested.

Members of the Persian Jewish community in Los Angeles also are suing Namvar for hundreds of millions of dollars that he was supposed to invest. They say Namvar took the money and created a Ponzi scheme in order to use the funds for personal expenses, including his brother’s wedding.

Deciding one’s legacy


Whether reading about yet another contested celebrity will or comforting a friend caught in a family estate squabble, many of us have stumbled upon the conflictual residue of estate planning gone sour. To be sure, some grantors would be just as happy to learn of these post-mortem dramas; however, this is the exception. Most often, the difference between a grantor’s wishes for his/her estate and the actual legacy that results in family discord, is the unintended and tragically avoidable result of inadequate planning.

Much of the time, especially with young, healthy people, lack of planning can be a simple matter of administrative oversight or putting off something that seems abstract and nonpressing. It’s as easy to deny the importance of estate preparation as it is to deny one’s own mortality; focusing on estate matters forces us to confront death. Additionally, many parents, especially in affluent families, do not wish to discuss their estates with beneficiaries out of fear of how their heirs would respond emotionally and financially to knowledge of their inheritance.

Nor are people typically eager to look beyond finance and taxes to face some tough decisions. Such conundrums include how to treat in-laws, remarriage or children with special needs, mental illness or addiction. If adult children have varying family sizes, do you distribute equally among family branches (resulting in some grandchildren having less than others), or do you divide equally among grandchildren (risking potential resentments and conflict among siblings who feel unfairly treated)? If there is a family business, how should shares be divided if some children work in the business and some don’t? How much should be given to charity? How much is enough? Who should be the executor? The questions can get complex indeed. No wonder many wish to refrain from deciding or discussing these issues altogether or fear confronting heirs with their estate decisions. What many don’t consider, however, is the impact of avoiding this process.

Even in the best of circumstances, money can become a powerful emotional metaphor representing ideas about fairness, or the feeling of being loved, cared for or special. In grief this can become even more pronounced. If the decedent’s wishes are left to chance and/or not made explicit before death, a vacuum is created that can only magnify the situation, and survivors can react in unpredictable ways.

“The biggest issue is grantors not sharing decisions and explaining why they are made” said Rebecca Maggard, a tax accountant and wealth coach who advises clients navigating the technical and emotional complexities of family estates. Even in the best of circumstances, where family dynamics run smoothly before death, things can go terribly wrong if not properly spelled out.

“You never know what to expect,” said Maggard, who advises her clients to clearly articulate their wishes in writing and to their heirs to avoid post-mortem confusion and squabbles.

Even if the discussions are difficult, there is still the opportunity to work things out while everyone is still alive.

Ways to organize such discussions can range from informal conversations to more formal family meetings organized by outside trusted advisers versed in the complexities and dynamics of family estate planning. Such advisers can include financial, legal and tax advisers who look beyond finance and taxation, or family enterprise consultants who take a more holistic family-systems approach, working with the family to organize around decisions and to facilitate difficult conversations.

One of the tools Maggard uses to help clarify and transfer family values is an ethical will, the ancient Jewish custom of documenting the values that a person wishes to pass on in addition to financial wealth. Written ethical wills date back to medieval times, with an oral tradition as old as the Bible itself, in which Jacob expresses in Genesis 49 his wishes for his sons and for his burial. Clarifying values in such a way can also help resolve some of the thorny questions needed to shape legal documents and are a way to pass on to subsequent generations the family’s legacy of lessons learned, stories, advice, guidance and values important to them such as family, hard work, education and the family’s role in the community.

However it occurs, in order to create consistency between intentions and execution of the estate plan, decisions have to be made, written down and clearly articulated to the beneficiaries. While the task may be challenging for some, engaging in this process can be about more than just the financial component of wealth; it’s also an opportunity to decide the legacy of values you wish to transfer and to have that legacy carried on.

Ilene Weingarten is an associate with Relative Solutions LLC, a family enterprise consulting firm that works with multigenerational families who share assets. Weingarten also maintains a private counseling practice in Santa Monica, specializing in the particular concerns of affluent families.

Options for Family Philanthropy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When good deals go bad


So your good deal has gone bad. Perhaps your house is underwater. Maybe that great job, with the promise of valuable stock options, not only has not produced options “in the money,” but has itself disappeared. It could be that your business, once lucrative and full of promise, has gone south, and now you are not sure how to extricate yourself from it, particularly since your partners are your parents. It’s possible you are regretting withdrawing retirement savings to invest in the next sure bet, as “guaranteed” by your (perhaps now former) best friend. What do you do now?

Before you (re)act (i.e., go legal), you should first be introspective and evaluate what role, if any, you played in your current predicament. Ask yourself: “Did I really have a ‘good’ deal to begin with, or did I have a ‘bad’ deal all along?” Too often, “good” means a deal whose desired outcome exceeds any reasonable expectation, and “bad” means a deal whose actual outcome does not or cannot meet unrealistically high expectations.

How do you know whether you ever had a good deal (“good” being a deal reasonably likely to meet or exceed reasonable expectations)? One measure is to ask whether a deal is ethical.

Rabbi David Golinkin, president and rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, discusses six basic principles of Jewish business ethics in a 2003 article for USCJ Review, three of which are summarized as follows:

• ona’at mamon – no monetary deception (strive for a fair and reasonable profit, but no more);
• ona’at devarim – no verbal deception (communicate honestly);
• no “putting a stumbling block before the blind” (do not knowingly take advantage of another).

California law contains similar requirements: a prohibition on “unfair competition,” a requirement that every contract contain an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and a rule against “unconscionable” contract provisions, just to name three.

In short, when evaluating the relative goodness of a deal, ask yourself whether you were modest (not greedy), honest, reasonable and fair in your own approach to the deal. Only if you have conducted your own business affairs appropriately should you look for redress elsewhere.

Now, getting back to your “bad” deals. If you are being totally honest with yourself, is your house underwater because of fraud or deception, or is it underwater because you took out a nothing-down, interest-only, no-doc loan during your third refinancing, pulling out equity along the way? Did you deal modestly, honestly and reasonably with the bank? Were you honest with yourself?

Regarding your dream job, did your employer actually lie to you, or were you deceiving yourself as to the job’s potential? Or, notwithstanding everyone’s best efforts, did the job simply not pan out as you and everyone else had hoped? Are you culpable for your loss? Is anyone?

Undoubtedly, there are times when by any objective measure you have been wronged, through no fault of your own. In such cases, you should seek the benefit of your bargain, or otherwise seek compensation for your reasonable injuries. But not every wrong has a readily available remedy. And sometimes, because of your own acts and/or omissions, you should look only to yourself for a solution.

In light of bad outcomes, regardless of cause, people are often hurt, angry, frustrated and disillusioned. Good behavior and civil discourse often succumb to raw and coarse words and deeds. But we should never forget that Jewish law prohibits both lashon harah (evil speech — “truth” communicated for an improper/negative purpose) and motzi shem ra (“spreading a bad name,” the equivalent of defamation). What we communicate and how we communicate it matters. To seek legitimate redress of legitimate claims is fine. To trash or defame someone, regardless of what he did or you believe he did, is not.

More difficult is when the bad deal involves a family member, friend or longtime business associate. As if losing a business or investments were not enough, often you may be at risk of losing a familial tie or a personal bond that may not be easily replaceable. Under these circumstances, the stakes are much higher. Are you still willing to “honor” your parents, notwithstanding your economic losses? When you are most frustrated, remind yourself that we are all created b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God). Can we, or should we, allow economic adversity to interfere with such important relationships? And are we ever entirely innocent, or so innocent that we can say truthfully that we are the only “victim”?

Money is important, but it can be replaced. Relationships are precious, and once broken or lost, often cannot be repaired or rediscovered. Whenever you are faced with a “bad” deal, look first to yourself and assess your own accountability, and then evaluate carefully that which is most important to you.

Stuart Leviton, founder of Leviton Law Group, is a frequent lecturer in business law and business ethics at American Jewish University.

Ethics Plan Would Raise Sanctity of Business


An observant Jew was once brought before the judge on counts of tax fraud. Seeing the kippah-wearing Jew before him, the judge innocently asked, “Mr. Schwartz, you are clearly a God-fearing man. How do you explain your immoral behavior?”

Not missing a beat, Mr. Schwartz pointed his finger in the air and defiantly declared, “Your honor, religion is one thing, but business is business!”

Alas, we’ve witnessed several “Mr. Schwartzes” over the last few years, and each new headline evinces new winces of pain from our community. Rabbis have been beside themselves; for years, we’ve preached about the need to carry one’s Torah observance into the business place. Shockingly (as if), not all our parishioners were listening.

What’s more, an environment in certain industries seems to have developed where illegal business activity has not only been condoned but even considered the norm. The Jewish work ethic — what up until recently was the proud hallmark of pristine honesty and integrity — became tarnished.

L.A.’s Jewish community is the second largest in the country. We have much reason to be proud; we have established every imaginable organization or endeavor to dole out kindness and charity to those less privileged. Jews comprise a huge demographic of the righteous of our city.

At the same time, it’s been observed that life is like trying to make a bed using a fitted sheet that’s just a bit too small for the mattress. You pull one end of the sheet over one mattress corner, and the other end of the sheet pops off the opposite corner.

We all tend to focus on what we consider the important things in our lives at the expense of others. For some Jews, a focus on social action comes at the cost of Jewish literacy and ritual. For other Jews, a focus on ritual and Torah study comes at the cost of translating all that knowledge into action in the workplace.

Yet, the Talmud (T.B. Shabbat 31a) emphatically states that the first question a person will be asked when he or she ascends to heaven will not be, “Did you eat kosher food?” but rather, “Were you faithful in business?”

A group of rabbis and lay leaders, seeing this wound on an otherwise exemplary community continue to fester, felt that it was no longer enough to talk the talk. In order to really bolster awareness and education within the community, we needed to do something demonstrative that would raise awareness not only when in shul but also while shopping and doing business.

The Peulat Sachir: Ethical Labor Initiative is nothing new. Several years ago, a group of Modern Orthodox Jews in Israel founded an organization called, Bema’aglei Tzedek (On Paths of Justice), with the mission of addressing the moral and socioeconomic challenges facing Israeli society (you can learn more at their Web site, http://www.mtzedek.org.il/). One of their main projects is Tav Chevrati, which recognizes those businesses in Israel that provide minimum wage and other basic benefits to their employees. After launching an impressive marketing campaign, the Tav now boasts over 350 businesses that have the Tav seal hanging in their windows.

Using the Tav Chevrati model — with small modifications for the American business arena — our group realized that were we to attempt to redress all business ills we would be biting off more than anyone would be willing to chew. Under the direction of a team of attorneys, we instead chose to focus on the one area of business that has the most significant human impact, the area of labor law.

Peulat Sachir offers a covenant agreement to any business owner who complies with the six basic areas of labor law as required by the state of California: (1) minimum wage, (2) payment of overtime wages, (3) provision of meal and rest breaks, (4) leave policy, (5) workers’ compensation insurance and (6) discrimination/harassment policies.

Additionally, Peulat Sachir will host regular seminars on ethical business practices, which will be open to the general public.

Of course, one could argue: What’s the point of an attestation that someone is just obeying the law? In today’s world of Bernard Madoff rip-offs, kosher production scandals, subprime mortgage meltdowns and corporate greed, plenty. The simple public affirmation that I as a business owner comply with dina d’malchuta (the law of the land) is an important step toward the reformation of an unhealthy business culture.

One might also argue: Why focus so narrowly on this one area of business ethics? What about tax law? Immigration law? Clearly, there are many legal areas within the complex world of business that could and should be addressed.

For one thing, we’ve got to start somewhere. But it’s more than that; we believe that raising awareness about one area of ethics will positively spill over to others.

The employer who respects the law by meticulously paying overtime is more likely to report accurately on his tax return; someone who proudly procures workers’ compensation insurance for his minimum-wage employees is more likely to care about the needs of other underprivileged members of society.

The Peulat Sachir mission statement is thus twofold: To engender a new culture for Jewish businesses — one of commitment to the highest ethical and moral standards in all aspects of business — and to raise awareness of what we in the religious community expect from our vendors and, ultimately, from ourselves.

Those who appreciate what Peulat Sachir is trying to do will want to preferentially patronize those establishments that have signed a covenant. Those who don’t, won’t.

Peulat Sachir in no way penalizes or blacklists businesses that can’t or won’t sign on to the concept. Ultimately, it’s up to the public to decide the success of the Peulat Sachir initiative.

Who knows? Maybe Peulat Sachir will become a model for other communities. And just maybe, by elevating the sanctity of our businesses, we and our assets will all be blessed in the process.

If you are a local business owner and would like to receive more information, contact Peulat Sachir at info@peulatsachir.net.

Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin is rosh kehilla of Yavneh Hebrew Academy, director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union West Coast Region and a community mohel.

Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson expected to set new charity donation record


Sheldon Adelson, frequently dubbed “the world’s richest Jew,” is about to claim the title of biggest Jewish philanthropist.The Las Vegas-based global casino and resort owner is slated to announce creation of a foundation that will allocate $200 million a year, according to a rising tide of media leaks and speculation.

Adelson himself, in a phone call to The Journal, would not confirm these figures, or that the money would be split between projects strengthening Jewish heritage and medicine. He labeled such media reports as exaggerated or erroneous.

“Everything I do promotes Jewish heritage, and I’ve given more than $200 million to medical research,” he said. “We’re now focusing on 10 different diseases.”

It is believed that half of the $200 million will go for projects to preserve the Jewish heritage and half for medical aid to the needy.

On the current Forbes 400 list of the 400 richest Americans, Adelson ranks third with $20.5 billion, up from a mere $1.4 billion in 2004. That year, Adelson took the Sands public, with his family as the majority stockholder. The shares have more than doubled since the initial public offering.

However, the 74-year-old entrepreneur has made no secret of his ambition to overtake Bill Gates, who leads the field with $53 billion, and Warren Buffett, second at $46 billion.

The expected new mega-donation tops Adelson’s other contributions this year, including $25 million to the Yad Vashem Martyrs Memorial in Jerusalem, between $2 million and $3 million to hospitals and residents of northern Israel hard hit by Hezbollah rocket attacks.

This week, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Adelson had pledged $5 million to Birthright Israel to send 2,000 additional young American adults on 10-day trips to Israel.

A close friend of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Adelson came under scrutiny some years ago for alleged improper donations to the Likud election fund.

In this country, Adelson has been a generous supporter of Republican candidates and, in Las Vegas, he has underwritten a new Chabad center. He has also pledged $25 million for a state-of-the-art Jewish community high school in the gambling destination.

Much of Adelson’s interest in Israel has been spurred by his second wife, Miriam, an Israeli internist and authority on methadone treatments for drug addicts. She heads rehabilitation clinics in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv.

Adelson is the father of five children and his life and career is in the best immigrant’s-son-makes-good tradition. His father left Lithuania for Boston, where he made a modest living as a cab driver.

Young Sheldon started his business career at 12, when he borrowed $200 from his uncle to buy the “rights” to peddle newspapers at a favorable Boston street corner.

He attended City College of New York, but dropped out to work as a mortgage broker, investment adviser and financial consultant.

Adelson made his first big money by creating COMDEX, which became the world’s leading computer trade show, one of the first of 50 companies he has founded or developed during his lifetime.

In 1989, he joined the big league by buying the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas for $128 million, gutting it and then erecting the 4,000-suite Venetian Resort Hotel Casino.

Legend has it that Miriam Adelson inspired the Venetian concept while the couple was on their honeymoon. Whoever deserves the credit, the super-luxurious Venetian resort complex helped to revolutionize the Las Vegas hotel industry and give a facelift to Sin City.

Not resting on his laurels, Adelson broke into the Asian market two years ago by opening the Sands Hotel in Macao, the former Portuguese enclave on China’s southeast coast.

Next year, he will open the Venetian Macao as part of a complex of 20,000 hotel rooms and 3 million square feet of retail space. In addition, Adelson has won the right to open the first casino in Singapore.

“We’re in an obsolescence-proof business,” Adelson told Bloomberg News. “We’re in the second-oldest business in history.”Recently, Adelson has been slowed by a nerve condition and needs to use a walker, but he is not about to step down as chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.

“Why do I need succession planning?” he told Bloomberg. “I am very alert. I’m very vibrant. I have no intention to retire. But if I were to retire, I would keep my family interest in the company the same and say ‘don’t sell.'”

Appraising Adelson’s influence, Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, told Israeli reporters, “I predict that Adelson will change the nature of Jewish philanthropy by setting new standards in dollar terms for giving to Jewish causes and hopefully others will follow his lead.”

Growing taste for kosher boils in U.S. melting pot


Hispanic and Asian foods are so different — in taste, textures, ingredients (even the utensils with which they are eaten) — that it seemed a strange pairing when the annual Expo Comida Latina was combined with the All Asian Food trade show at the Los Angeles Convention Center recently.

Yet among the 500 exhibitors offering food service establishments everything from refrigeration equipment to signage, etc., there was one with an “intangible” asset: kosher certification, something that intrigues ethnic food providers of all stripes.

Sitting alone in a simple booth with a few brochures and a backdrop banner declaring, “Star-K Kosher Certification / Kosher Supervision Worldwide / A Vital Ingredient in Your Success,” Steve Sichel, director of development for the Baltimore-based agency, fought off fatigue. He had raced to the airport right after Simchat Torah to fly across the country overnight.

Sichel is no stranger to conferences where he is the only man wearing a kippah: “I attend these kinds of shows all over the world.”

Kosher has come a long way from designating merely a set of obscure dietary restrictions that are strictly observed by only a minuscule fraction of the world’s population. According to a 2005 Mintel Organization International report, Kosher is a $14.6 billion industry and ranks among the fastest-growing segments in the retail food business.

“Outside of Israel and North America, Star-K has offices in Europe, Asia and Latin America,” Sichel reported. “Obviously, our consumers are not in India and China, but a growing number of food processing plants are interested in kosher certification in order to broaden their export markets, and they call on our mashgihim based in Bombay and Shanghai.”

The increased availability and desirability of kosher food, whether imported or domestic, is reflected in its astonishing growth rate. “While retail food sales grew at a rate of 6 percent last year, kosher food sales grew 15 percent,” Sichel told the audience attending his expo seminar, “Kosher Certification 101.”

The turnout for Sichel’s workshop was small: only a minyan of men and women, both foreigners and locals. Undiscouraged, Sichel went through his complete bilingual (English and Spanish) slide presentation: “The Latest Wrap About Kosher Hispanic Food — Lo Ultimo en Comida Latina Kosher.”

As Sichel likes to tell his audiences, “You don’t have to be Jewish to have kosher products.” In fact, Star-K is a member of the American Tortilla Industry Association, and Los Angeles’ own Tumaro’s Gourmet Tortillas — the country’s best-selling flavored (savory and sweet) tortilla brand — is certified kosher.

Nor do you have to be Jewish to buy, consume and enjoy kosher products. “The second largest consumer group for kosher food is Muslims,” Sichel noted. “There are 10 million Muslims in the United States, and in the absence of widespread halal certification, they have come to rely on kosher certification.”

According to Sichel, others who prefer to eat kosher include Seventh-day Adventists, vegetarians and health-conscious consumers.

“The kosher symbol is seen as an indication that there is another set of eyes keeping watch on what the company is doing,” he said.

The growing number of non-Jewish consumers of kosher food has not been lost on the supermarket chains.

“Given a choice, supermarkets prefer to stock kosher products — particularly products whose kashrut certification comes from a reliable agency.” he said.

Nor did this growth escape the attention of Diversified Business Communications, the company that owns and operates Expo Comida Latina and All Asian Food Expo, as well as Kosherfest, the country’s largest exhibition of kosher foods. In fact, Kosherfest — which was founded by Menachem Lubinsky 18 years ago and purchased from him by Diversified four years ago — was combined with New York City’s joint Expo Comida Latina and All Asian Food Expo in mid-November.

According to Brian Randall, Diversified’s group vice president for ethnic and cultural foods, Kosherfest, was not held in Los Angeles this year because of an unwritten agreement with Kosher World that the latter would hold kosher trade shows on the West Coast, as it did last spring in Anaheim.

In the meantime, Kosher World has been sold, and the brand dissolved, leaving it up to Randall and Diversified to decide whether to bring Kosherfest to Los Angeles next year.

Randall predicted more avenues for the growth of kosher products.

“We are going to see kosher kid products in all cuisines,” he said. “In addition, organic food is a nexus with kosher food for the growing healthy food market. Jewish parents want the best for their kids. Look for major kosher food producers, like Manischewitz, to introduce organic lines under their labels.”

Pick a cause


When I was in eighth grade, I went on a school field trip to the Museum of Tolerance. My grandmother being a holocaust survivor, I had learned much about the Holocaust and took an interest in it. At the Museum of Tolerance, however, I learned about other things as well.

At an exhibit called the Millennium Machine, the last stop, I was in shock at all the horrible things that are still happening to children today. I couldn’t believe that in the world I lived in, kids were being enslaved and starved. I had always been involved with community service, but at the sight of this exhibit I knew I had to do something to help these children.

It was only a couple of weeks later that I was shopping at a jewelry and clothing boutique, when the owner noticed my necklace — which I had made. She offered to sell it at the store. That very day I brought in a tray of my work, and my guitar-pick jewelry was an instant success at the store.

This was right before summer started, and before I knew it I would be spending my summer days making jewelry. When I realized how much money I could make, I remembered that exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance and how much those children needed the money — much more than I did.

So I decided to give all of my proceeds to these unfortunate kids, and I began looking up charities that benefit kids. The first charity I donated to was UNICEF, because I knew that the money I gave would directly help youths in other countries that I had seen in the video at the museum. Ever since, I have given all of my proceeds to various charities, amounting to about $10,000.

In addition to my business, I always take on the opportunity to help in my own community. I believe that it is important to help out whenever you can, whether it’s picking up trash at the beach or working at a charity benefit, as well as taking on new challenges.

I love art and jewelry making, but giving to charity is the heart of my business. I might not be making jewelry forever, but I know I will always be charitable, because I have a love for helping those less fortunate than I am. Since I am a creative person, I’m glad to know I can use my talents to help others.

I also realize how fortunate I am to live in a nice house and to have food to eat, something that is easily taken for granted. I have also learned that we fortunate kids hold the responsibility to help children who are in desperate need for simple things that we have an abundance of. I believe that one person can make a difference, and with my charitable business I would like other young people to see that they, too, can use their talents for a good cause.

Amanda Martin is a junior at Viewpoint School in Calabasas. Her jewelry can be purchased at www.pickmejewelry.com.


The this essay was written for the Service Learning awards given out by the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Sulam Center for Jewish Service Learning (julief@jewishjournal.com.

Rainbow-haired couturier takes fashion fun seriously


Her natural hair color is brown, but Nony Tochterman hasn’t shown her roots in about 20 years. These days it’s a bubblegum pink, and in the past she’s tressed herself in Skittles hues, including green, blonde, orange, purple, fuchsia and lavender.
Color, after all, is a lot of what the 40-year-old fashion designer is about. Her line is called House of Petro Zillia. Named after the Hebrew word for parsley, it is a perfect moniker for her design aesthetic, which takes fun seriously.

“I’m a colorful person,” Tochterman said. “I like color; I like texture; I like mixing things together. I think my customer is a sophisticated, ageless, confident woman.”

Such women have found Tochterman’s clothing in upscale boutiques since the company’s inception in 1996, but Tochterman says a store of her own “has been in my head for years.” This month, she and her husband and business partner, Yosi Drori, celebrate the grand opening of a flagship store in the trendy strip of West Third Street, between La Cienega Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

“The store is not just about my clothes,” Tochterman said, “but about everything that I love — furniture, knickknacks.”
Tochterman is known in the industry for her whimsical feminine pieces, bold designs and unexpected color combinations, as well as a penchant for knits and vintage-inspired looks. The fashion of Petro Zillia is eclectic. It encompasses a retro sky blue cashmere sweater, with a rainbow and hearts on the front, but also a subtler, but still quirky navy silk wrap dress trimmed with pompoms, and a serious gray tweed flare skirt.

Her new store’s interior reflects this point of view. Shoppers enter into an open space subtly divided into three sections.
Up front, the feel is midcentury, with walls decked in mod orange and green wallpaper. Through the center, the mood changes to neoromantic. Tripartite walls are painted crackle pink on top, lime green in a center ribbon trimmed with gold-gilt molding and papered in a blue floral on the bottom. From the ceiling hangs a sizable chandelier that Tochterman says her husband found at “like a JCC donation center or something.” (Drori is responsible for most of the interior design.) In the back is a shift to ’70s psychedelic, complete with facing lime green loveseats: one tweed, one plastic.

Tochterman and Drori hope to make the location a hangout, in addition to a shopping destination. There are plans for a garden in the back under a big magnolia tree left by the previous tenant, the Shambhala Meditation Center. Next door to the store is a space the couple is converting into Tochterman’s design studio — one arena that has never felt foreign to her.
Tochterman grew up in Tel Aviv with a fashion pedigree. Her mother had a chic boutique, and Tochterman said, “I used to go to her studio, and she allowed me to work on the overlock machine.” By the time she was 7, Tochterman had learned how to knit, sew and cut fabric, and she eventually sold some of her pieces in her mom’s store.

At 14, Tochterman moved to Los Angeles with her parents and siblings, but she had trouble adjusting and moved back to Israel after a year and a half, living with her grandmother while she finished school there.

She returned to Los Angeles after she graduated. Soon after, she moved to New York to work in the fashion industry. Capitalizing on a huge late ’80s trend by making clip-on button covers, Tochterman founded a successful accessories line, Nony New York, with Drori in 1986.

They made the most of it while it lasted, but the trend was dead by 1995, and they closed the business. They traveled, had a brief stint as owners of a Caribbean hotel on Saint Martin and eventually found themselves back in Los Angeles with their infant son, Etai, living with Tochterman’s parents.

Petro Zillia was born soon after — an accessories line that quickly morphed into a full ready-to-wear collection. Some 10 years later, her designs have been featured in Vogue and W Magazine and worn by trendsetters like Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz and Madonna.

Tochterman and Drori continue to work together on the business and personal life they share. The birth of Etai was followed four years later by a girl, Romie. The kids are now 11 and 7 years old, and in February the couple will celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Tochterman’s open personality translates into her life as well as her work. In her identity, she feels herself more American than Israeli. But she’s still “Eema” to the kids, and Drori is “Abba.”

Religion, too, is a relaxed thing. They celebrate Jewish holidays with the extended family but do not observe much at home. In terms of religious school, Tochterman and Drori have not made it a priority. The kids attend a secular private school in Santa Monica, where they live.

One could say her diverse fashion sense applies to her worldview, as well.

“The way we see it, we want to raise good people, religion blind, color blind, sexual-orientation blind — citizens of the world,” Tochterman said. “I like looking at the spectrum of their friends. Indian, Jewish, Italian — it represents the world better.”

It’s Pat — South African queen of kosher cuisine


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

You keep kosher? Not a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life in the ‘hood: Gino Tortorella, hairdresser to the Jews


After 30 days of spiritual feasting, repenting, praying and partying, I think this is a good time to head into the hood and meet my buddy Gino Tortorella.

I love Gino because he’s entertaining in a Martin Scorsese sort of way — he looks like a cross between Joe Pesci and Danny Devito, with that thick New Joisey accent — and because he’s a Catholic who’s had the chutzpah to spend most of his adult life surrounded by Jews. You see, Gino and his hair salon have been a fixture in the heart of the Pico strip (a few doors down from Pat’s restaurant) since the time Richard Nixon was president (1971), so you can imagine that this man has a few things to say.

And, thank God, he does love to talk.Gino TortorellaToday, he’s looking across the street, where Hymie’s Fish Market used to be, and he’s reminiscing. Apparently, Hymie’s used to be a real hot joint back in the late ’70s. According to Gino, the food was so good (alas, it included shrimp and lobster), and the Jewish owner/hostess (“Mama” Elaine) was so well liked, that “all the stars would show up,” even big Jewish stars like Barbra Streisand and Milton Berle.

There’s no question that Gino’s got a thing for Jews. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that for the better part of 40 years, Jewish women have accounted for 90 percent to 95 percent of his hairdressing business.

He didn’t always cut hair. After being raised in a Catholic orphanage on New York’s Lower East Side, where he was shining shoes on Delancey Street at the age of 8, he lucked into a cook’s job at an Italian restaurant when he was 15. As he recalls it: “I was a bus boy; the chef dropped dead one day, and they gave me the job because the head nun at the orphanage had taught me how to cook.”

But cooking was not to be his calling, because he wanted a “more normal life.” So at 19, he learned the art of hairdressing, and has never looked back.

For several years, Gino was one of Manhattan’s hairdressers par excellence, with salons uptown and downtown, and a wealthy Jewish clientele (“Jewish women like to look good”). But his first wife, a Chinese American from whom he recently divorced, wanted to move to Los Angeles with their daughter. So to “keep the peace” and stay close to his daughter, he followed along and moved to a place he knew nothing about.

Since he didn’t yet have his California hairdresser’s license when he arrived in 1971, he started off by cutting hair on a federal Army base in El Segundo. But one question kept nagging at him: Where are all the Jews?

A buddy from New York told him to “go look in Beverly Hills,” but he found the rents there too high. So one thing led to another, and next thing you know Gino’s on the phone with the owner of a tiny building on West Pico, an Orthodox Jew who ended up becoming his friend and landlord — for 35 years and counting.

A lot has changed in his neighborhood and for Gino over the years. In his heyday, when he used to advertise his salon in the local Jewish paper as “The Boys From New York,” he would have “seven cutters, three shampoo girls and three managers working all the time.”

He attributes his successful years to a discriminating clientele (“I gave them Beverly Hills service without the stuffiness”) and to an obsession with cleanliness (“My customers never walk on hair”).

He felt close enough to his Jewish clientele that he even remembers going on Friday nights to hear the sermons of Rabbi Edgar Magnin, who was related to one of his clients. Although this was a far cry from his working with Sister Rose Maria of Thousand Oaks to help with her Christian missionary work in Africa, he recalls fondly the rabbi’s universal message that “we should all get along.”

Today, it’s just Gino and his second wife, a Japanese American named Kay, who run the salon, where relics of his heyday — a mini disco ball, 1,000 pictures (including one of Pope John Paul II), tchotckies and an old TV — are everywhere. When you consider how quiet the business is these days, you wonder how Gino stays so upbeat. He realizes that the neighborhood has changed; he calls it more “ethnic,” but when pressed, he elaborates and says it’s “more religious.”

Obviously, the trend toward wigs among the newly religious has not been good for business. When I ask him why he thinks the business is down, he admits that it might have to do with him not getting any younger; that it’s not like the old days, when he could attract the hottest talent in town. But the “r” words (retirement and relocation) are both out of the question. In fact, having recovered from a recent stroke, the fit and trim Gino has been doing some strategizing.

A couple of hot-shot religious hairdressers recently approached him and told him that they would be willing to work there, and bring their clients with them, if he would close on Shabbat. This notion intrigues him, and as he walks past the empty hairdresser chairs to offer me another coffee, you can tell that he’s feeling an old fire light up.

When I tell him that I must leave because it’s almost Shabbat, he smiles, the kind of smile that must wonder what it would be like to not have to work on the hairdressers’ busiest day of the week, for someone who’s never had a Saturday off in his life.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Six self-help books seek to help you get sealed in the Book of Life


In these days of asking tough questions, taking stock, revisiting memories and trying to do better in 5767, books are essential tools. Several new works from different disciplines and traditions, some of which don’t mention the words Days of Awe, lend new meaning to the holidays — on caring for orphans, baking bread, deepening celebrations, understanding forgiveness, practicing kindness, exploring traditional liturgy and rituals.

 

Social Action Groups Fight for Cleaning Ladies’ Rights


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skateboard Creator Builds Business on Performance


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The flow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cozy Kosher Surf Shack — Observant Oasis in the ‘Bu


Joyce Brooks Bogartz’s look isn’t quite what you’d expect from the owner of a kosher restaurant. Adorned with brown and cream dreadlocks, the nearly 50-year-old proprietor of Malibu Beach Grill would at first glance seem to fit in better with customers sporting board shorts than black hats. But this post-punk Gidget is the kind of ‘Bu Jew who is as comfortable around Chabadniks as she is with surfers.

“Having a kosher place, you can only be so risqué in your appearance,” she said.

Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness. And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).

But the road to winning over the locals wasn’t easy.

Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.

“I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea,” said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator.
“For a year we were the walking dead,” she said. “I was sleeping four hours a night.”

Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.

To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn’t hurt, either.
The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta’am (flavor).

“It’s a small place, but it’s better than what we have in Philadelphia,” said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.

“They put an interesting twist on everything,” said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. “It’s different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It’s not just a plain burger.”

The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: “How does your grandmother do it?”

Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno.
Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994, she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, whose sign featuring a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.

Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette’s local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.

“My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it’s warm,” she said.
Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant’s catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.

“I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody,” she said.

Letters 06-30-2006


South Central Farm
Ralph Horowitz’s claim of anti-Semitism simply serves to inject ethnic conflict into a debate it does not belong (“A Harvest of Conflict,” June 23).

As part of our senior project, I and my friend, Deepak Seeni, interviewed some of the people involved in the farm. I suffered no anti-Semitism. On the contrary, some of the people seemed interested when I explained why I could not eat the food that was being sold there.

To portray Horowitz negatively at a time of negotiations was foolish, but to judge on the basis of what a hate group the leadership condemned said is ridiculous. If Horowitz was interested in negotiating in good faith but found current leadership distasteful, I don’t understand why he didn’t accept the deal negotiated by the city and nonprofit groups on the basis that the city or another neutral agency be in charge of running the urban garden.

Throwing out misleading accusations doesn’t show good faith, and the fact this piece of land was not saved, in the end hurts only the kids whose closest alternative for play is an empty parking lot, while the parties unproductively blame each other.

Horowitz now has the chance to be a true mensch by simply reentering negotiations and finding a way to save that space for the community.

Charlie Carnow
Northridge

Assemblymember Monta?ez
In a column providing all sound bites and no substance, Jill Stewart offers comments disparaging Assemblymember Cindy Monta?ez (“These Dems Could Help Unlock Gridlock,” June 16). These comments are both mean-spirited and baseless.

Stewart’s first barb that Monta?ez (D-Mission Hills) is “an emotional hyperpartisan” is both sexist and false. Exactly how does one measure emotional hyperpartisanship? First, Monta?ez is a policymaker; [L.A. City Councilman Alex] Padilla is a power broker with little interest in real policy.

Next, Stewart makes claims like “[Monta?ez] proved incapable of working with both sides of the aisle in Sacramento.” Stewart, unsurprisingly, provides no support for this claim. Indeed, were Stewart an informed journalist, she would know that Assemblymember Monta?ez has co-authored 12 bipartisan pieces of legislation this session alone (AB547, AB568, etc). And readers should know that her legislation, signed by the governor, was, by definition, acknowledged by Republican leadership as necessary and important work.

Stewart is also off base in her ludicrous assertions that Monta?ez’s pro-labor position hurts her Latino constituents. In fact, being pro-labor and a being a friend to small business are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the reason that major labor organizations support Monta?ez is that she takes on, not kowtows to, big business. Stewart needs to do her homework.

Roy Kaufmann
Field Representative
Office of Assemblymember
Cindy Monta?ez

Jews and China
You’ve got it partially right — the next revolution in Jewish life is already taking place relative to China, but in a very different way than you describe and for a very different reason. (“This Week,” June 16).

Let me explain. Both traditional Judaism and the predominant Chinese philosophies are unbroken traditions addressing the whole person — intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Traditional Chinese medicine, based upon that premise, is truly holistic and integrative in both theory and clinical practice.

For this reason, an ever-increasing number of Jews seeking to bring balance to their lives and wellness to their health are attracted to Chinese medicine. Also, an ever-increasing number of Chinese medical practitioners and students are Jewish.

Yehuda Frischman
Los Angeles

You are not alone in your envisioning of Jews in China. In 1970, plus or minus a few years, Max Dimont, the author of “Jews, God and History,” was the speaker at a Temple Soleal retreat in Santa Barbara. He ended his talks with the prediction that the next great revival of Jews would be in China. Needless to say, most of us were dumbfounded. But the thought remained with me ever since.

Stan Burney
Via e-mail

Campus Activism
In his op-ed, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller mischaracterizes pro-Israel campus activism and ignores its importance and effectiveness (“Different Tack on Campus Challenge,” June 23). UCLA, in the heart of Jewish Los Angeles, does not always reflect what is happening nationally and internationally.

The rabbi’s approach certainly can enhance these efforts, but contrary to his charge, activist groups like StandWithUs promote coalition and bridge-building as a necessary part of activism. If the pro-Israel/pro-peace community abandons activism, it will do so at great risk.

Roz Rothstein, National Director
Dr. Roberta Seid, Educational Consultant
Esther Renzer, President StandWithUs

Kosher Entity
I am perplexed as to where the millions –if not billions — of dollars in profits that the “strongest and wealthiest entity in the Jewish world, ” except for Israel, as described by Rabbi Jacob Pressman, reside. Is there a secret bank account in Switzerland for the Orthodox Union (OU), the largest kosher certification entity?

The OU is a registered not for profit, so Pressman could easily check its financial documents (Letters, June 23).

While a few purveyors of kosher food –many of them non-Orthodox Jews or non-Jews — may make a handsome profit, the idea of a massive, megawealthy Orthodox “kosher entity” is as mythical as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

As an admirer of Pressman’s many contributions to L.A. Jewry and a member of a Conservative congregation, I am sorely disappointed that the rabbi has chosen to engage in what can only be called Orthodox bashing. And his words reinforce the negative canard that kashrut is “all about the money.”

Jodie Davidson
Woodland Hills

John Fishel
While the article titled, “A Private Man,” about John Fishel that ran May 26 was informative, it did not highlight one of Fishel’s key strengths.

Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.

A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.

This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.

Rhoda Uziel
Executive Director
Professional Leaders Project

Correction
In “Young Lawyer Has a Ball With Bet Tzedek” (June 23), The Journal incorrectly reported that Jeffrey A. Sklar is an attorney at Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP. Although he once worked at that firm, he is now an associate in the corporate practice of Loeb & Loeb LLP in Los Angeles.

In “Jesus’ Man Has a Plan” (June 23) the Rev. Rick Warren received his kippah from Jimmy Kolker, former U.S. ambassador in Uganda, not from the country’s president, as reported. Additionally, the invitation to Warren came from Rabbi David Wolpe, Craig Taubman and the ATID program at Sinai Temple, not from Synagogue 3000.

 

Views Differ on Role in Centers Crisis


The news stunned John Fishel. In the fall of 2001, the L.A. Federation president learned that the city’s Jewish community centers were in crisis. If The Federation didn’t act quickly, some or all of the JCCs would have to shut down.

Fishel had every right to feel upset. He and other Federation leaders had allocated millions to support the JCCs over the years, with the expectation that the money was well spent, with proper oversight. In the late 1990s, for instance, The Federation had forgiven $1 million in loans to the parent organization running the centers.

Now, not only were the Jewish centers’ futures at stake, but also nearly $3 million in additional loans advanced by The Federation.

The financial troubles at the local JCCs were by no means unprecedented. Years earlier, difficulties flared up in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. In those instances, the local federations acted quickly to bail out troubled centers. They forgave loans, made emergency cash infusions and hammered out long-term strategic plans.

Other cities saved their JCCs because they saw them as invaluable community resources. They not only provided valuable services to Jewish families but also strengthened or even established connections between individual Jews and the Jewish community. In Los Angeles, JCCs also were known for serving the larger non-Jewish community.

But Fishel did not act as though preserving the centers was a community necessity. His approach to the problem was markedly different than in other cities.

“It all became: How are you going to pay back the money? When are you going to pay back the money? What interest rate will there be for this accrued debt?” said Nina Lieberman Giladi, former executive vice president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). “I would have expected The Federation, as leader of the organized local Jewish community, to have taken a different, more collaborative tone.”

A former Federation executive close to the parent organization corroborated her account, as does documentation. The Federation brought an attorney to the first post-crisis meeting between group executives and representatives of the centers’ parent organization. Many in the community began to see Fishel as intent on liquidating the centers to get the Federation’s money back. Fishel did little to dispel that perception by opining that perhaps the JCC model was antiquated and megasynagogues, day schools and other Jewish institutions might fill the void.

Eventually, The Federation restructured the debt and agreed to some loan forgiveness. But Fishel created no special fundraising campaign. He didn’t hold a fundraiser dinner. And the repayment terms virtually guaranteed that most of the JCCs would be shuttered, with their land sold to repay The Federation.

His actions suggested that he had lost faith in the mission and relevance of some of the city’s JCCs, especially the smaller ones.

Within three years, the venerable Bay Cities JCC in Santa Monica went out of business; the small Conejo Valley JCC shut down, and the JCCs’ parent organization sold the North Valley JCC. Although the property’s new owner has permitted North Valley members to continue operating on the site, the number of families participating at the center is off nearly 80 percent from the late 1980s.

And in Silver Lake, it was a Christian cleric — not The Federation — who partnered with the local community to purchase the land under the Silverlake Independent JCC. Otherwise, that profitable center would have closed because of a debt that it did not create. Most of the proceeds went to The Federation to repay a secured loan.

All this occurred against the backdrop of a JCC movement that is booming nationally. Close to $700 million in construction is planned, under way or has recently been completed, said Allan Finkelstein, president of the JCC Association of North America, the umbrella organization for the nation’s 200 full-service JCCs and other community properties, including Jewish camps. In coming years, Las Vegas; Boulder, Colo., and Naples, Fla., are expected to have new state-of-the-art facilities.

So what happened in Los Angeles, a city with such an affluent Jewish community? For one thing, the JCC parent organization mismanaged its finances and never raised enough money to maintain and improve the centers as Federation funding began declining in the 1990s, said attorney Ron Leibow, a vice chair of the national JCC Association. Leibow ultimately helped negotiate a final settlement between The Federation and the JCC parent organization, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.

The local Jewish community, unlike those in other cities, neither supported most existing centers nor clamored for the types of state-of-the-art facilities that have proven so successful elsewhere, he added. As for Fishel, Leibow said, he erred in initially taking an intransigent stance.

“There’s lot of blame to go around,” Leibow said. “I blame The Federation. I blame the JCC system. And I blame the community.”

Fishel, supporters argue, did much more for the local JCCs than he’s given credit for. In 2001, at the height of the crisis, Federation grants, loans and advances to the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles totaled $3.3 million, or nearly one-quarter of its $14 million budget, according to The Federation. (That figure included a $1.1 million emergency loan, with interest.)

“I can assure you John did all he could,” said Harriet Hochman, a former Federation chair who worked closely with Fishel on the JCC issue. “This caused him a great deal of pain and agony.”

The Federation, Hochman added, has increasing demands on its finite resources and simply lacked the money to prop up the entire system.

Given the mismanagement at the JCC parent organization, Fishel could be excused for not rushing to throw new money at the problem.

But to critics, Fishel and The Federation seemed to be choosing with their funding which Jewish communities were worth fighting for.

In the end, those JCCs considered worthy were the state-of-the-art New JCC at Milken in the West Valley; the Westside JCC (near the Fairfax district), which has raised millions for a planned renovation, and the often-struggling Valley Cities JCC. They have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Federation support.

“Without John Fishel and all the lay and professional support we’ve gotten from The Federation, we wouldn’t be here — period,” said Mike Brezner, president of Friends of Valley Cities JCC, which operates the center. “They got us over the hump.”

Fishel’s unwavering support, Brezner added, allowed Valley Cities to rebuild programs, attract new members and gave it time to find an anonymous donor who paid off the Valley Cities outstanding debt. More than 1,000 visitors per week now come to the center.

No such luck with Fishel for the Silverlake Independent JCC, which arguably was more successful than Valley Cities. The Federation, in recent years, gave nearly nothing to Silverlake.

A boisterous 2004 protest held by Silverlake supporters at Federation headquarters brought out television crews and put Fishel and The Federation in a negative glare. Afterward, when Silverlake formally requested a grant, Federation officials asked for audited financial statements. Silverlake executives said they couldn’t afford to pay the audit fee.

“In my estimation, [the Silverlake leadership] chose not to go through the route we recommended,” Fishel said curtly.

In April 2005, just as Silverlake appeared on the verge of closing, Bishop J. Jon Bruno, head of Los Angeles’ Episcopal Diocese, stepped in to assume a 49 percent ownership stake on behalf of the local Episcopalian diocese. The Silverlake group retained 51 percent control. The center, which operates in the black, now offers ballet, gymnastics, yoga and other classes. Its preschool has a waiting list.

“I was stunned when we ultimately received no help from the organized Jewish community,” said Janie F. Schulman, president of the Silverlake Independent JCC. “I kept thinking that at the end of the day, they would come through for us.”

For a city its size, Los Angeles now has a relatively weak JCC system. Whereas metro New York has 26 full- or part-service JCCs and Chicago has seven, Los Angeles has five.

“I don’t feel the JCC model is necessarily outmoded,” Fishel said, “but we have a different community today than we did 10 or 20 years ago.”

Fishel Facts

Name: John Fishel.

Position: President of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — 1992 to the present.

Age: 57.

Salary: $332, 000 (according to 2004 federal tax documents).

Birthplace: Cleveland.

Education: B.A. in anthropology from University of Michigan; M.A. in social work from University of Michigan.

Family: Married for 31 years to Karen, preschool teacher at Temple Isaiah; daughter, Jessica, 19, freshman at University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Hobbies: Reading, international adventure travel, music, especially jazz and blues.

$61.8 Billion


Of the 50 wealthiest Angelinos, 27 are Jewish.

Each year, The Los Angeles Business Journal uses legwork and a little guesswork to discern who’s worth the most in Los Angeles. Once the list comes out, as it did this week, I like to run it through the old “Who’s a Jew?” detector.

I’m well aware that the only people who habitually do such things are the heads of Jewish charities and anti-Semites. The former do it to garner fundraising leads, the latter do it to “prove” a worldwide conspiracy. I do it because I have something I want to tell these people — my Sermon on the Count.

My count a few years back put the number at 25. This year there are two more, including Jamie McCourt (Jew), vice chairman of the L.A. Dodgers and listed with husband Frank McCourt (not a Jew). So it goes, this slightly unseemly business of sussing out religious affiliation on a list that reveals just net worth, business interests and a bit about philanthropic activities.

It’s, of course, on that last subject that I’d have the most to say. Adding up the numbers provided by the Business Journal, I get a combined net worth of $61.8 billion.

Three things struck me about this year’s list. The first is: wow. Jews make up barely 2 percent of the Los Angeles’ population, but more than 50 percent of city’s richest of the rich. There have been precious few times in history when Jews have been blessed with so much wealth, along with so much freedom. In a city of openness and opportunity, these men and women have made the most of their chances.

Despite their common membership in a rarified group, these folks are a diverse lot.

Most are L.A. — or even American — transplants, with roots in Canada (eBay’s Jeffrey Skoll); Israel (Alec and Tom Gores, Haim Saban) and elsewhere. Their backgrounds range from Holocaust survivor (Leslie and Louis Gonda) to able scions of family fortunes (Anthony Pritzker). Their political affiliations run the spectrum, from Hollywood liberal (DreamWork’s Jeffrey Katzenberg), to George W. Bush stalwart (Ameriquest’s Roland Arnall, now ambassador to Netherlands). Their religious practices range from observant to none of your business.

You might think with great wealth has come great assimilation, as previous generations of Jews often had to choose between asserting their religious identity and social acceptance. But another striking fact of this list is how many of these people are deeply involved in Jewish communal life and causes. Westfield’s Peter Lowy is chair of the University of Judaism. The Milkens, Michael and Lowell, are pillars of Jewish philanthropy. Biomedical innovator Alfred E. Mann gave $100 million to Technion-Israeli Institute of Technology last year. As for Spielberg, there’s a little something called the Shoah Foundation. By my estimate, most have given to Jewish causes.

And this is not to sniff at their non-Jewish philanthropy. Eli Broad (No. 4 on the list) has been at the forefront of efforts to improve education and art in Los Angeles. DreamWorks’ David Geffen donated $200 million to UCLA’s School of Medicine in 2002, the largest contribution ever to a U.S. medical school. For a man worth $4.2 billion, that’s almost real money.

At the same time, the larger picture is that L.A. County trails behind other places in terms of charitable giving. As reported in the Business Journal, a 2003 Chronicle of Philanthropy study of IRS tax returns concluded that L.A. County residents with incomes greater than $50,000 gave only 7.3 percent of their income, or about $4,000, to charity. New Yorkers gave 10.9 percent and Detroit residents, the national leaders, gave 12.1 percent. In California, San Francisco residents gave 9.3 percent, people in Long Beach 8.4 percent, and residents of the city of Los Angeles 6.9 percent.

I wonder if the Jewish billionaires on the list skew the averages in L.A.’s favor. I hope so.

The last thought to strike me as I reviewed this year’s list was how incomplete it is. The Business Journal stops at 50. But there’s serious wealth from 50 to 100, from 100 to 10,000, and loads more down the line. In short, there are many challenges this community faces, but lack of resources is not one of them.

Jewish professionals often complain to me that there just doesn’t seem to be enough money. But there is — and then some.

There is enough money, I suspect, to develop a social service program to help every one of the 7 percent of L.A. Jews who live beneath the poverty line.

There is enough money to build and sustain a network of first-rate Jewish camps and give every child a chance to attend one — and there are few better ways to instill Jewish values than camp.

There is enough money to pay Jewish communal workers a wage that enables them to participate fully in Jewish life.

There is enough money to provide significant scholarships for every child in need who wants to attend a Jewish day school and to improve the quality of public schools.

There is enough money to sustain a network of state-of-the-art communal centers — either Jewish community centers or synagogues — inviting, welcoming and affordable to the entire community.

Any one of these would revolutionize the face of Jewish Los Angeles for the better, and most could be accomplished just by upping our average giving to the standard set by … Detroit.

If only our vision were equal to our assets.

The Hebrascope: Signs of the Jewdiac



HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

(February 19-March 20)
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Josh Groban

There’s a study that shows that lab rats don’t get as stressed from being shocked as they do from not knowing when the shocks will come. Put that rat on a regular shocking schedule, and it doesn’t freak out. How does this apply to the human Pisces? Some of your anxiety right now comes from a simple lack of knowledge. Get more information. The more you know, the less you will suffer from the fear of how and when that shock will arrive. This week, make a special effort to befriend casual business contacts. A stream of new work may be coming your way, and you never know whose friendship will yield rewards.

(March 21-April 20)
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Matthew Broderick

That whole “pay it forward” thing is pretty easy, as far as good deeds go. If someone is prompt, warm or even excellent in a service they provide, it’s all about referrals. Your generosity will come back to you. Aries employees may face a heavy workload this week to due the absence or illness of a co-worker. Still, if you start a project this week, it’s likely to come to fruition. Here’s the bad news: Mercury turns retrograde until March 25. That means details regarding travel, mail and technology may become frustrating. What’s an Aries to do? Back up all computer files and dip into your reserves of patience.

 

 

(April 21-May 20)
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Barbra Streisand

Business and pleasure – two great tastes that don’t always taste great together – may combine this week as someone from your social circle introduces a business proposition. The catch is that dastardly “hidden agenda” friends can have. You can’t play “hide and seek” with someone else’s agenda, but you can gently suggest that all parties show their cards and express their real desires. If you have any important messages to send, do so before Thursday. Be certain to be very clear in your communications; that funny, sarcastic e-mail that sounds hilarious in your head may be misunderstood.

(May 21 – June 20)
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Barry Levinson

Information you are getting this week is just a lot of blah blah blah until you confirm and clarify what you are hearing. Someone may be using verbal skills to manipulate your mind. Here’s where you throw down with your research skills and separate fact from fictions. Unattached Gemini may want to attend a social function with work colleagues. While it may not be the best idea for you to “dip your quill in the company ink,” don’t rule out the possibility of a co-worker bringing along a cute and appropriate-to-date friend.

(June 21-July 20)
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Sydney Pollack

Intuition has many faces. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling, or a voice whispering in your head (not the kind that happens when you forget your meds), or a nagging thought. Sometimes, intuition is just a flash. However it shows itself, this is not the week to second-guess it but to act on it. Whatever feels right is right. It’s that simple. In career matters, this is a week to embrace the old cliché about “it’s not what you know but who you know.” Information gathered privately from inside sources will help you make bold moves in your career. Who do you press for information? It’s gut check time.

(July 21 – August 21)
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Monica Lewinsky

Money may not be the root of all evil, but it is certainly the root of many a trivial argument. This week, you may find yourself at odds with a personal or professional partner about just how the cash is getting doled out. Fortunately, when it comes to dealing with banks, creditors or outstanding debts, this is an excellent week for these kinds of financial dealings. Also, this week may find you daydreaming more than usual. One second you’re getting on the freeway, the next, you’re already at your exit and have no idea how you got there. Harness your daydreams; they are filled with creative ideas. And try not to get too lost.

(August 22-September 22)
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Adam Sandler

Any Virgo who is studying, learning or composing simply must have privacy. Annoying roommates? Get away from them, sling the laptop in a bag and get to a coffee shop. If the family is around, hole away in a separate room for a couple of hours and get the alone time you need to focus. As for your emotional life, think of it this way. Why do athletes stretch before a big game or event? So they don’t break. Flexibility is key to your emotional health this week. Bend, stretch and don’t jump into an emotional situation ice cold. You don’t want to pull a mental hamstring and end up on the injured list. 

(September 23-October 22)
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Michael Douglas

Going to the gym and starting a fancy new workout regime in January is for suckers; that’s when everyone is trying to act on their secular New Year’s resolutions and the line for the treadmill is worse than the IKEA checkout line on a Saturday afternoon. Good thing for Libra, now is the time to start a routine with the stars supporting your efforts. Normally indecisive Libra may have a more difficult time making decisions. Should you have the mint chip or the rocky road? It all seems so critical and hard to maneuver. Just remember, all the flavors taste good – not to mention giving you extra encouragement to stick to your new workout plan.

(October 23-November 22)
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Jonas Salk

Welcome to a cosmic carnival of amusements. This week will be a delight for the senses, some cotton candy, a few rides and lots of pinball in your brain. There’s nothing to do but enjoy the frenetic energy and all the bright lights and colors. Oh, there is one thing to do: start up a romantic affair. If you’re in a relationship, this is a good time to win her a stuffed animal or buy him a stupid t-shirt. Basically, anyone you love or would like to love into your world, invite them to your carnival and show them a good time. If it’s unexpected or bizarre, embrace it.

(November 23-December 20)
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Harpo Marx

Watch out for savvy salespeople. You know the type; they tell you to get the timing belt changed when you just needed an oil change. They encourage you to buy the foundation primer when all you needed was the $10 makeup sponge. You may be especially susceptible to buying things you don’t need. Do not be “upsold.” This is also a good time to watch your money in other ways. Keep your purse on your lap instead of on the floor and keep your wallet safe. You may have big, inspiring dreams filled with metaphors and ideas. Keep a journal by the bed and write them down.

(December 21-January 19)
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Dave Attell

Don’t dismiss the oldsters in your world. Someone with far more experience than you do may have wisdom to impart this week. When it comes to work, you may have been coasting and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dig into it. Are you working as hard as you can, or breezing out at exactly 5 p.m. after a solid half hour of checking e-mails and reshuffling papers? If you leave late and get to work early, your superiors will notice. What’s more, you want get that icky feeling that comes from wasting time on someone else’s dollar.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 18)
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Ted Koppell

Tuesday is the day if you are planning a small celebration for a loved one. I don’t mean a gigantic surprise party with a piñata or girl jumping out of a cake. If it just means ordering a pizza and renting a favorite movie, make it happen. Take care of the little details so a special person in your life can feel valued. As for the rest of week, you will feel more comfortable and aligned if you make sure you household chores are complete. Wash those last couple of dishes, take in the dry cleaning, wash the bath mat and all will be slightly better with the world.

Boutique Teaches Brides Love Lessons


Where there’s a bride to be, there’s a bachelorette party. And for many Los Angeles women, that party means just one thing: The Love Boutique. For 25 years, the shop has entertained and educated parties of women about sexuality and sensuality. The Love Boutique parties are like Tupperware parties, but instead of selling kitchenware and sharing recipes, the consultants are selling romance gear and exchanging advice on how to heat things up in the bedroom.

“We provide women with an honest, authentic sexual education,” Love Boutique founder Judy Levy said. “We teach women everything their mothers didn’t and discuss everything that women are afraid to talk about.”

Levy, who describes herself as a nice Jewish mother, wasn’t always in the sexuality business. A graduate of Palisades High, this former B’nai B’rith Girls chapter president spent 15 years as a schoolteacher. While teaching in Europe, she was inspired by stores that sold sexual goods in a traditional retail environment. In January 1981, she brought her version of that liberal European attitude to the Los Angeles area, opening The Love Boutique in Tarzana and hosting home parties. Levy, who celebrated the shop’s 25th anniversary with a charity gala on Feb. 2, has since opened a second shop in Santa Monica and now hosts more than 100 parties each month.

The Love Boutique sells everything from massage oils to lingerie and romantic board games to self-help books. In keeping with the store’s philosophy, these items are merely tools to help women feel elegant, sexy and self-confident.

“The nighties are just the wrapping paper, you are the gift inside,” said Love Boutique party consultant Sophia Silver, who attends Stephen S. Wise. “We want to help women feel good about themselves and their relationships.”

But Levy’s Love Boutique parties aren’t promoting promiscuity or suggesting that women play the field.

“When women understand and respect their bodies, they will find partners who honor, appreciate and respect them,” Levy said. “Only men who understand this will get to be with us.”

Love Boutique consultants teach that sexuality is normal, healthy and fun. They explain that women will feel more powerful, creative and happy when they are comfortable with their sexuality, and that this sexual knowledge will lead to more successful relationships.

While Love Boutique’s parties and shops will have its detractors, Levy believes this education is important for all women, but especially young brides.

“Girls tend to focus on their wedding and forget about their wedding night and the nights after that,” said Levy, who was a virgin bride at 21. “It’s important that women think about how they’ll keep up that connection in their relationship.”

That’s where the Love Boutique’s bachelorette parties come in. The parties teach women to open up lines of communication and be proactive in their requests for what they want emotionally and physically. And attendees say they’re just plain fun. Hostesses invite 25 to 30 friends (over the age of 18) for lots of giggly, girly bonding and what else — shopping.

A love consultant arrives at the hostess’ home with a tablecloth, products and goodies. The party opens with a sexuality quiz. From there, the consultant opens up the conversation, allowing women to share stories and ask questions in a comfortable environment. The consultant leads the guests in games and discussions that help women learn about their own romantic needs. Then she walks the guests through the products available at Love Boutique.

The goods range from aphrodisiac candles to edible body frosting and some items that made this reporter blush to witness, let alone write about. Party consultants are aware that hostesses’ comfort levels may vary, and they will work with the hostess before the party to find a tone that works for her and her guests. At the end of the party, the consultant discretely meets with each guest individually to take orders to ensure that each remains private. The bachelorette receives a free hostess gift and a gift certificate valued at 10 percent of the party’s total sales.

Levy, who participates with ORT and Hadassah, believes her business meshes well with her Jewish beliefs. Many of her party consultants and hostesses are Jewish, and she says her work helps Jewish couples fulfill a Shabbat mitzvah.

“Every Friday night, my husband and I light Shabbat candles and stay home together,” said Levy, who belongs to Makom Ohr Shalom in Tarzana.

For Levy, who recently spent two weeks in Israel, tikkun olam (healing the world) is personal passion. The Love Boutique’s recent 25th anniversary party at the Jewish-owned Erotic Museum in Hollywood doubled as a benefit for Children of the Night, which rescues children from prostitution. During the month of February, 2 percent of all party, online and Love Boutique sales will go to the nonprofit.

Levy is thrilled to be helping the community at large and Jewish couples in particular through her business.

“We’re helping couples connect emotionally and physically, and it’s that connection that sustains a marriage,” she said.

To book a Love Boutique bachelorette party, call (310) 586-0902 or visit

Community Briefs


After 22 years as head rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village, Rabbi Aron Tendler resigned last weekend.

“It is with mixed emotions that I write you today to let you know of my decision that, after 22 wonderful years, I have decided to step down as rabbi of Shaarey Zedek,” Tendler wrote in a letter to the 400-member families of the Orthodox synagogue.

“This has been a decision I have contemplated for some time, and after great soul searching and deliberation and with the full support of Esther and the family, I decided that it was time to explore other opportunities and embark on a new aspect of my personal and professional life.”

Tendler wrote that he intends to stay in the community but wants to spend more time with his family and pursuing writing, teaching and other projects.

“On occasion, I would like to sleep for more than four hours. Selfishly put, I want more time, and if not now when?” he wrote. Tendler will stay on through the High Holidays and help the search committee in its quest to find a new rabbi.

“Rabbi Tendler turned innumerable lives around, and it will be a great loss for us,” Brad Turell, Shaarey Zedek’s communications director, told The Journal. “He’s very talented and we wish him the best.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Sharansky Visits Southland

Israeli politician Natan Sharansky spent a quick two days in Los Angeles last weekend, giving four speeches on Jan. 22 calling for more American Jewish involvement in the upcoming World Zionist Congress.

“People have a need to strengthen their bond, somehow feel themselves part of a bigger family,” Sharansky told The Jewish Journal. “It doesn’t matter what origin; it doesn’t matter whether they are right or left; more and more Jews feel the need to become close to Israel. Before you are looking for the new way with your connection with Israel, what about the most traditional way?”

The prominent Likud party member was brought to Los Angeles last weekend by the West Coast chapter of American Friends of Likud. He encouraged Jews here to get more active in the quadrennial congress this summer of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), which controls the multimillion dollar budgets for The Jewish Agency.

Organizers said Sharansky spoke to about 35 Likud supporters at a Sunday breakfast, then to 100 people at the Hillcrest Country Club, plus more than 200 people later Sunday afternoon at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and finally another 90 at a private dinner at a television producer’s home.

Since last November, the WZO’s American branch has been selecting delegates for this June’s 35th WZO Congress in Jerusalem. Voting ends in late February with U.S. candidates from Likud, Russian, Green Zionist, Meretz, Harut and other Jewish movements. Sharansky wants more U.S. Jews to sign up with the $7 registration fee on the WZO’s American Zionist Movement Web site and then vote for delegates concerned about WZO spending.

In an interview between two of his speeches, Sharansky criticized the WZO Congress as a, “narrow group of people without broad involvement of Jews [worldwide]. So people simply don’t know, its connection of involvement and distribution of funds. Jews have an opportunity to participate in it, but they’re not using this opportunity. One percent maybe knows about its existence.”

Sharansky quit his minister-without-portfolio post last May in protest to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s pullout last August of Gaza settlers. While Sharon’s former Likud party sponsored Sharansky’s two-day L.A. visit, the onetime Soviet dissident said, “When speaking abroad, I’m trying to speak as little about splits in Israel as possible. When speaking to the Jews of Diaspora, you have to speak about building bridges between Jews of Diaspora and Israel.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

A Dozen Nonprofits Get Foundation Grants

The Jewish Community Foundation recently awarded grants totaling $116,000 to 12 mostly local nonprofit organizations to support a variety of services, ranging from suicide prevention hotlines to dental care for the poor and counseling and tutoring for abused and neglected children.

The Foundation’s grants ranged in size from $5,000 to $20,000 and will help fund valuable services that government money alone cannot underwrite, said Marvin I. Schotland, foundation president and chief executive.

“There are vast pockets of need that cannot possibly be met at this time by the public sector,” he said. “Support by our organization to the greater community is more critical, and immensely gratifying, than ever and remains a vital part of our mandate.”

The foundation, created in 1954, is the largest manager of charitable assets for Greater Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists. With more than $590 million under its management, the Foundation distributed last year $58 million in grants to more than 1,300 organizations.

Among the nonprofits that received grants in January:

  • The Los Angeles Free Clinic received $10,000 for its dental program. This year, the clinic, which provides health and other services to the uninsured and the working poor, expects more than 3,500 children and adults to make more than 9,000 visits for dental services.
  • Trevor Project Inc., based in Beverly Hills, received $10,000 for a suicide prevention hotline and educational programs that promote tolerance for gay teens and those questioning their sexual orientation.
  • New Ways to Work in Sebastopol, Calif., received a $10,000 grant to help prepare children in foster care for independence at age 18. Over the next four years, nearly 4,000 Los Angeles youths currently in foster care are expected to become emancipated and leave the foster care system.
  • Inner-City Arts received $10,000 for a hands-on arts program designed to improve literacy among grade school students enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Chabad in the House

What is “The Rebbe’s Gelt?”

Literally, “the rabbi’s money,” it’s the name of a new Chabad program unveiled last week at the annual West Coast Convention of Chabad/Lubavitch for Shulchim, or emissaries. The new initiative will provide grants and loans to those rabbis who need short-term financial aid.

More than 170 Chabad rabbis and emissaries gathered at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel and the Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach, for the Jan. 15-16 convention. Chabad West Coast unveiled Camp Gan Israel Running Springs, a new Jewish overnight camp located on Chabad’s Kiryas Schneerson mountaintop campus. Chabad also announced its plan to organize the first ever Woman’s Convention of Shluchos on the West Coast, tentatively scheduled for May in San Diego. — Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Thousand Oaks Temple Teacher Receives Award

Bobbie Match, who has spent 10 years at Temple Adat Elohim’s Early Childhood Center received the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education presented by the Jewish Education Service of North America, Inc. The award recognizes outstanding classroom-based teachers in formal Jewish educational settings. It includes a $1500 grant for continued professional development. Last year Match received the prestigious Lainer Distinguished Early Childhood Educator Award from the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles (BJE).

Other recent BJE Award winners from Temple Adat Elohim are Michelle Princenthal, winner of the 2005 Smotrich Family Education Award; Tara Farkash, winner of the 2003 Lainer Distinguished Early Childhood Educator Award; and Marcy Goldberg, winner of the 2004 Lainer Distinguished Educator Award. — NZ

Yago Joins Israel Securities Authority Board

Glenn Yago, director of Capital Studies at the Milken Institute in Los Angeles, was appointed to the International Advisory Board of the Israel Securities Authority (ISA), the government body that oversees and regulates the Israeli capital market and serves the same function as the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States.

Yago joined key Israeli economic policy makers, including ISA chairman Moshe Tery, Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer and Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange chairman Yair Orgler, for the first meeting of the International Advisory Board in New York. Other board members from the U.S. include Leo Melamed, chairman emeritus of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange; Douglas Shulman of the National Association of Securities Dealers; Bill Brodsky, chairman of the Chicago Board Options Exchange; Milton Harris of the University of Chicago School of Business; and David Loglisci, deputy comptroller of the State of New York.

Appointing Yago, Tery said that he wanted the economist’s experience and insight “to help build the legal and economic infrastructure to advance Israel’s capital markets and its standing as a venue for global investment.”

Yago is a leading authority on financial innovations and capital markets and specializes in privatization projects to improve the economic climate in the Middle East. He has experience working with municipal, government, business and academic leaders in the region to promote economic reform. He is a senior Koret Knesset Fellow and teaches at Tel-Aviv University and the Interdisciplinary Center-Herzliya. He is the author of numerous books and studies, including “The Economic Road Map: Beyond the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” (Milken Institute, 2005). —NZ

Bubis Honored for Community Service

Professor Gerald Bubis, founding director of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service (SJCS) at the Los Angeles School of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), was honored recently when the school celebrated its 36th Anniversary at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Two-hundred guests turned out for the event, including colleagues, community leaders, fellow SJCS alumni and old friends, saluting Bubis’ efforts at the school and in the field of Jewish Communal Service.

The (SJCS) was founded in 1968 and is the oldest professional school of its kind. Its inter-disciplinary approach combines study of Jewish tradition and text with tools from the fields of the social sciences and business. Open to students from all areas of religious thought and communal life, the School seeks to be inclusive and pluralistic. Since its inception, 650 people have graduated from the school.

More than 300 SJCS graduates hold dual master’s degrees from USC. Twenty-five rabbis hold degrees from the school and 37 SJCS graduates have received dual degrees in Jewish Education from the HUC-JIR/LA Rhea Hirsch School of Education.

Concurrent with the celebration, alumni and friends of the School of Jewish

Communal Service raised more than $135,000 in scholarships in honor of Bubis. —Norma Zager

Stan’s Customers Go Bananas Over Reopening

Asked about the past three and a half months, shopper Kathy Mannheim said, “I hated it. It has not been a happy time in my life.”

She’s referring to the period of time she endured without her favorite local produce store, Stan’s. A Pico-Robertson neighborhood fixture, Stan’s closed after the High Holidays, when owner Stan Pascal got sick and was unable to carry on his usual six-day-a-week schedule.

Earlier this month, Pascal reopened and was greeted with the kind of enthusiasm normally reserved for rock stars.

“I’m thinking of giving autographs,” he joked.

Feyge Yemini, who patronizes the store twice a week to supply her large family, said she was “extremely happy” about Pascal’s return.

“I never found a comparable high-quality fruit store,” she said. “I had to go to five places to get what I can get here.”

Pascal started in the produce business as an 8-year-old in Windsor, Ontario, where he would help his father out on the weekends. In 1957, he came with his family to Los Angeles, and worked at his father’s three produce stalls at the Grand Central Market downtown. After his father died, Pascal and his wife, Susan, opened their own store on Fairfax Boulevard, where they remained for more than two decades before moving to the current location.

Fairfax resident Miriam Fishman continues to shop at Stan’s despite the distance.

“It’s a haimisch place,” she said. “There’s no other fruit store like it in town.”

In a time of big box markets and megastores, Stan’s has remained a place where retailer and customer maintain a personal relationship. Pascal greets customers by name, allows regulars to purchase with IOUs, and has been known to weigh a customer’s new baby on the produce scale.

During his absence, rumors circulated that he had sold the store, and in fact, he almost did. “At the last minute I changed my mind,” Pascal said. “I missed the people.”

The feeling is mutual. “I went to other places but it wasn’t the same,” said customer Mannheim. “It wasn’t Stan’s.” — Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer

 

Activists Strategize on Hotel Contracts


The gala dinner was like many others at the Century Plaza Hotel, featuring festive centerpieces atop crisp tablecloths, well-dressed guests exchanging greetings and servers bustling about offering trays of beverages.

However, this event wasn’t actually inside the hotel. Set in front of the hotel on the Avenue of the Stars, which was blocked off, this banquet-in-the-street supported some 4,000 striking workers at seven Los Angeles hotels. The traffic-stopping April gathering was among a series of actions organized by a coalition of community groups, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), in support of an 11-month strike that ended in June.

The outcome was an important step forward for the union: It achieved a wage hike, continued health benefits and a short contract that will expire at nearly the same time as the contracts of other hotel workers in other parts of the country.

Last week saw the next round of activism — a transnational effort in support of hotel workers in eight cities fighting for a new contract in 2006.

On Wednesday, inspired by the success in Los Angeles, Jewish social justice organizations from the United States and Canada gathered at the hotel workers’ union headquarters just west of downtown. The strategy session was convened by New York-based Jewish Funds for Justice and Los Angeles’ Progressive Jewish Alliance. Representatives also attended from other Jewish organizations in Los Angeles, as well as from groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Paul, Washington, D.C. and Toronto. In mostly closed-door meetings, organizers discussed the tactics and the coalition building that worked in this year’s L.A. campaign and how the lessons would apply in other cities.

Organizers say that Jewish involvement has been a central fixture within the effort.

Jewish participation, particularly at the Century Plaza Hotel, was essential, said Maria Elena Durazo, president of the hotel workers local, UNITE HERE. The Century Plaza is sufficiently serious about Jewish clientele to maintain a sealed-off kosher kitchen, she said.

“There’s no doubt that if it had not been for the influence and the participation and the constant, constant communication of the Jewish organizations, the Century Plaza would not have settled,” Durazo said.

“The most important aspect of what we did there,” said Jaime Rapaport, the architect of PJA’s hotel worker support campaign, “was this national Jewish response to a campaign that’s addressing poverty.”

The national average median wage for housekeepers is $7.85 an hour, according to the union. Wages are higher where more hotels are organized: In New York, where hotels are 95 percent unionized, a housekeeper’s wages start at $19 an hour; in Los Angeles, with a 35 percent union density, housekeepers average $11.31.

“It’s not just about a contract fight,” UNITE HERE organizer Vivian Rothstein said. “It’s a national approach to address conditions for nonunion and union workers.”

But a hotel industry representative said the union activists are over-reaching with unrealistic demands and that they misrepresent how hotels treat their workers.

“The bulk of hotel workers are housekeepers. They make, under this contract, approximately $13.50 an hour,” said Fred Muir of the Hotel Employers Council, which represents seven unionized Los Angeles-area hotels. He points out that the contract also provides for a pension fund, paid health care and free meals at work.

The strategy on the hotel side has been to prevent union contracts across the country from expiring at the same time. Hotels gave ground on that issue in the last year. Beyond that, individual hotel chains have opposed union organizing and simply worked to hold down labor costs in a business environment that includes rising health-care costs.

The economics of the hotel industry are simple, Muir said. “How many rooms can you fill and how much can you charge for them? The money to pay everyone has to come from somewhere.”

Room rates in New York are twice what they are in Los Angeles, so workers in New York can be paid more than those in Los Angeles, he said.

The activists who gathered last week emphasized that they are trying to make their labor campaign about Jewish values. The meeting’s purpose was to link local Jewish groups to the union organizing in their cities, and, just as important, bring them together to develop “a common language, a common strategy, common goals that would enable us to speak in a louder and more aggregated voice,” said Daniel Sokatch of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. He wants to expand the notion of what constitutes “Jewish issues.”

“We want to put out there on the radar the notion that social justice is central to our identity as Jews,” he said.

The idea resonates with Simon Greer, who just six months ago took over as executive director of Jewish Funds for Justice. The foundation, which handles some $15 million annually, underwrote transportation and lodging costs for participants from the Jewish social justice organizations.

Greer said that the campaign seeks to boost hotel workers into the middle class. “As Jews in this country, the beneficiaries of America as an open society, we are obligated to do something for others in this society,” he said. “A piece of this is about how we reclaim justice as a centerpiece of Jewish identity in America.”

When Jews make choices that support social justice, he added, they are, in effect, expanding the notion of keeping kosher.

Fairfax Shops Feel the Squeeze


A venerable Jewish business in the Fairfax District has received a short-term stay of execution. Hatikvah Records, an internationally known vendor of both popular and rare Jewish music, will remain open at 436 N. Fairfax Ave. until mid-January, despite earlier reports that its closure was imminent.

A sizeable rent increase had threatened to close the shop by Oct. 15, but Simon Rutberg, who has owned 51-year-old Hatikvah since 1989, said he’s been allowed to pay at his current monthly rate a few months longer.

“The owners did not want me to lose the Chanukah season and were good enough to extend through it,” Rutberg said, adding that Chanukah is when he moves the most merchandise.

Rutberg expects to shutter his storefront soon after and switch to selling via the Internet only.

The fate of Rutberg’s shop could play out all along Faifax Avenue as rising property values and rents threaten to force out traditional merchants who have given the street its Jewish flavor. A string of businesses across the street from Hatikvah are struggling to hold on since their building was sold and their rents raised.

Picanty grocers, run for 18 years by 77-year-old Nori Zbida, is being squeezed by a monthly rent increase of $850, boosting it to $3,771 — a lot for a business that caters to locals looking for kosher groceries and Hebrew-language newspapers. Arnold M. Herr Bookseller will be out early next year; Solomon’s Bookstore is threatened; and the National of Council of Jewish Women has acknowledged a steep rent increase for its shop space.

The building that houses Hatikvah Records changed hands in June. Fairfax Avenue LLC purchased the property with support from lender Harkham Family Enterprises, a company that has been involved in several land purchases on Fairfax, including the property across the street. A precipitous rent raise for Hatikvah was to take effect first in August, then in October — until the latest postponement.

But one way or another time seems to be running out.

“I lament it,” said Stephan Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society.

He has childhood memories of driving in from the San Fernando Valley with his parents to the Fairfax District and recalls how Hatikvah Records defined the very atmosphere of the area.

“You would hear the music blaring out down the street,” he said. “It was very special.”

 

Wine, Women, Song


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit www.juddshill.com.

 

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