Spirit and Chocolate Top Temple Emanuel Installation

There was chocolate and music last week when Sue Brucker was installed as president of Temple Emanuel’s board of directors at Shabbat Unplugged. Amid the singing and Shabbat rituals, Brucker was applauded for her talents as a leader, and her commitment and dedication to getting any job, no matter the task, accomplished.

The services were filled with those who enjoy the upbeat Shabbat melodies of singing and celebration Temple Emanuel has become famous for. Known as a “go-to person,” Brucker is always the first to achieve any goal, take on any task and commit to any cause. Brucker, along with her mother-in-law Rita Brucker, will be honored at the Women of Sheba Achievement luncheon later this month and is the immediate past president for the Beverly Hills High School PTSA. She also received the Humanitarian of the Year from Amie Karen Cancer Society. Her husband Barry is on the Beverly Hills City Council and was the former president of the Beverly Hills School Board.

Big Fun in Big Apple

Leaving Los Angeles and spending a month at Yeshiva University (YU) in New York this summer was a fun and rewarding experience for five Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles (YULA) students. The teens met and mingled with other Orthodox students in New York City, taking in the sights and enjoying the Big Apple. The five students, Michael Bank and Jesse Katz of Los Angeles, Marlon Schwarcz of Beverly Hills, Joel Shuchatowitz of Tarzana, and Netanel Zilberstein of Encino stayed in dormitories on YU’s Wilf Campus in Washington Heights.

Students spent mornings studying Jewish topics, and in the afternoons chose between “The World of Finance and Investment,” a practical experience establishing and analyzing a portfolio of investments and working with traders, financial planners and entrepreneurs; “Explorations in Genetics and Molecular Biology,” a laboratory experience introducing students to the theory and techniques of molecular biology; and political science/pre-law, which exposed students to politics and law through the lens of current issues and by taking trips and hearing from speakers around New York City.

The YULA students toured the area attractions, including a Broadway show; the Museum of Natural History; Six Flags Great Adventure; a Mets game; a double-decker bus tour; a visit to the World Trade Center site; and a tour of YU’s campuses.

“It was great to have an opportunity to feel the YU experience,” said Zilberstein, the first of his siblings to go to college.

He said spending the month at YU took some of the mystery out of the college experience: “You get to feel like you are a college student, taking real college classes.”

Students also spent several days in the Washington, D.C. area, visiting the Capitol building, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Spy Museum and spending Shabbat in Silver Spring, Md.

“Many of the students are interested in YU, but want to see more than they would if they just came for a tour,” explained Aliza Stareshefsky, program director.
For more information about next year’s program, e-mail summer@yu.edu.

Rabbi on Board

The Olympia Medical Center recently added Rabbi Karen L. Fox to its board of governors. The group is comprised of 15 community leaders and business executives, and recommends and implements hospital policy, promotes patient safety and performance improvement while helping provide quality patient care.
“We are honored to have someone with Rabbi Fox’s prominence join our board of governors,” board chairman Dr. Sharam Ravan said. “I know that she will be an asset to Olympia Medical Center as we grow to meet the needs of the community.”

Fox, who has served at Wilshire Boulevard Temple for nearly 20 years, graduated from UCLA in 1973. She earned a master’s degree in Hebrew letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and received her ordaination there in 1978. She earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology as well as a doctorate of divinity from Pepperdine University, and is a licensed marriage and family psychotherapist. She published a user-friendly guide to Jewish holidays title “Seasons for Celebration” and has authored numerous articles about women’s experiences and Jewish thought.

Kids Raise the ‘Roof’

The Children’s Civic Light Opera (CCLO), one of the Los Angeles area’s original and longest-established performing arts programs for youth, ages 7-17, celebrated its 19th year with a stellar production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Parents and friends shepped naches as 40 talented and dedicated kids rehearsed for eight weeks to present the Broadway-style production complete, with professional sets, costumes, sound, lighting and a live orchestra. Their show was a treat for theater-goers who sat awed by the kid’s spirited performances.

“‘Fiddler’ is a rare and beautiful gift,” CCLO’s founder and artistic director Diane Feldman Turen said. “It is an incredibly powerful piece of theater overflowing with an abundance of learning opportunities on multiple levels. Its universal themes allow us to address and examine the opposing forces that drive our lives and it’s wonderful that our ensemble can apply what they’re learning on the stage and off.”

Marlene Marks’ Spirit on the Web

Being treated for cancer is no one’s idea of fun. But a new Web site, www.chemochicks.com, is bringing moral support and an irreverent sense of humor to women undergoing chemotherapy. The colorful, breezy site gives female cancer patients a place to gripe, share inspiring stories and purchase products that will make life easier when their hair falls out and their self-esteem is nil.

Chemochicks.com is the brainchild of Jana Rosenblatt, a theatrical costumer and interior designer who has spent the past year fighting ovarian cancer. Much of the Chemo Chick product line comes from her own search for stylish headwraps and for eye makeup that will stay put on a hairless face.

“It’s amazing,” Rosenblatt said, “how expressionless you are without your eyebrows.”

The site also reflects Rosenblatt’s feisty spirit. When first facing chemotherapy, she dreamed up a fearless alter ego, Super Chemo Chick, who was tough enough to handle whatever might come. Now this personal coping mechanism helps empower others.

Rosenblatt’s founding partners in Five Chicks Unlimited are four local businesswomen who have been touched by cancer. They bring expertise in finance, product research, Web design and customer service to the site. But its guiding spirit is someone who did not live to see its launch: Marlene Adler Marks.

Rosenblatt had redecorated Marks’ Malibu home in 2000, shortly before The Jewish Journal’s longtime columnist and former managing editor was stricken with lung cancer. When Rosenblatt herself fell ill in June 2002, a visibly ailing Marks came to call. Marks’ courage in the face of her own mortality inspired Rosenblatt to battle back with similar grit. Two months after Marks’ death last September, the idea for chemochicks.com was hatched.

Another major morale boost came from Rosenblatt’s synagogue, Or Ami of Calabasas. Though she was relatively new to Southern California, members showered her with food baskets and friendly visits. Several, in fact, have joined the Chemo Chick team.

“I didn’t realize I was so much a part of any community, let alone a Jewish community,” Rosenblatt marveled.

Which shows that even a cancer diagnosis can lead to good things. “I like the person I am now better than the person I was before I got sick,” Rosenblatt said.

The Jewish Mambo King

Real estate entrepreneur Brad Gluckstein had a vision. Perhaps not as dramatic as one of those sightings of Mary Magdalene, but a vision nonetheless.

He was having lunch one day in 1995 at Brown’s Deli in the Miracle Mile area and saw an old Jack La Lanne health spa for lease. "I basically said, as a 35-year-old educated, married guy, how would I like to spend my time? I came up with something that was part nightclub, part restaurant, but evoked the spirit and vitality of being in Latin America."

By February 1998, that vision became a reality, and the Conga Room was born.

Word of the muy caliente salsa club and restaurant has since scorched a path along Wilshire Boulevard among devotees of Latin culture. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of the Conga Room’s 35 investors: Jimmy Smits? Paul Rodriguez? How about Sheila E. and Jennifer Lopez?

Getting the superstars on board was no easy matter in those early days, before the Latin explosion that catapulted Lopez to superstardom and made Ricky Martin a household name.

"It was a very humiliating process trying to sell concept with pigeons flying around the old Jack La Lanne club," Gluckstein, 40, told The Journal. "It was a vision that very few people could see."

But Gluckstein’s dogged determination convinced the manager of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz to come aboard, and the celebrity investors followed. Cruz headlined the club’s first shows, and since then, the Conga Room has showcased everyone in Latin, jazz and world music, from Pancho Sanchez to Yellowman.

What Gluckstein enjoys most about running the Conga Room is that "you deal with people; you get to influence their mood," he said, sounding not unlike a DJ who might spin records at the Toro Room, the Conga Room’s club-within-the-club that caters to hip-hop fans, while people salsa, mambo and cha-cha-cha to live bands in the main room.

La Boca, the Conga Room’s well-reviewed restaurant, brought in Asia de Cuba’s executive chef to bring Nuevo Latino authenticity to the cuisine. Gluckstein has done a stylish job capturing the Latin-flavored swank of the Trocadero and the Mocambo nightclubs that once defined the Sunset Strip.

Gluckstein’s parents, Robert and Rochelle Gluckstein, are fellow Conga Room investors, of whom, he said, "were not only instrumental in supporting my vision but it was their teachings that informed my philosophical underpinnings."

Sinai Temple members since 1946, the Glucksteins are very involved with causes, such as the Lupus Foundation and Stop Cancer. Robert Gluckstein was a founding board member of Beit T’Shuvah.

In a short time, Gluckstein has been able to use his club to bring communities together and facilitate philanthropy, raising millions for charities.

"It’s much more impactful for me personally to be involved with charities and politics on a visceral level, rather than just writing a check," he said.

Gluckstein, a longtime Jewish Federation supporter, has employed his experience in the Jewish and Latino worlds to develop a new program sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC).

"The goal is that they should work together for something for the civic good," said Michael Hirschfeld, JCRC’s director, of the collaboration that is set to start in the fall.

Gluckstein, a graduate of Beverly Hills High School, is a third-generation Angeleno, whose grandparents were of Russian and Polish descent. Gluckstein’s paternal grandfather, Joe Gluckstein, started a real estate portfolio in the old Ambassador district, which Gluckstein’s father, Robert, inherited and built up. After attending UC Berkeley, Brad Gluckstein formed Apex Realty, which continues to manage and enhance the portfolio started by his grandfather.

There was nothing calculated about Gluckstein’s "merengue segue" into starting the Conga Room.

"I didn’t get into the Conga Room because I love clubs," Gluckstein said. "I did it because I love Latin music."

At 30, he became entranced with Latin music and kicked off a personal journey that escalated from conga lessons to trips to South America to monthlong excursions in Cuba studying the roots of Afro-Cuban music.

Gluckstein even met his Romanian-born wife, Bianca, on Los Angeles’ salsa-dancing circuit. The Glucksteins have found less time and energy to step out and salsa these days, with their 8-month-old daughter, Sonya, to care for.

As for his other baby, the Conga Room, Gluckstein is proud that it matches his vision.

"We really are authentic," Gluckstein said. "It’s something Latinos really enjoy by virtue of the music we present. And it’s a safe harbor for people of other cultures."

If Gluckstein has gleaned anything from his exposure to Latin culture, it is pursuing one’s personal passions, and he is doing just that. His next venture is to take over the Hamburger Hamlet restaurant chain, a favorite family destination of his youth.

"The past five years have been the most dynamic five years of my life when you think that I got married, had a kid, started the Conga Room and became more philanthropically involved. It’s been an incredible journey so far. Tzedakah comes in many shapes and forms and the Conga Room has been a lightning rod. I truly have a vehicle to do service."

The Oldest Diary

There is something otherworldly about the experience of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It is perhaps the preeminent spiritual-cultural paradox in all of Jewish life. When girls and boys focus so intensely on this personal lifecycle event, each possesses a transcendent, timeless and eternal quality.

I was reminded of this recently as I was sitting in my study helping a young girl work on her speech a few weeks before her Bat Mitzvah. We began talking about her upcoming Bat Mitzvah and how it made her feel about being Jewish, how she might describe her own Jewish identity and her place in the history of the Jewish people.

In order to put into words exactly how she saw her relationship to the Torah and the passing down of Jewish tradition, she told me the following story: “Imagine that my parents and I decided to research our family history, and we discovered that my great-great-great-grandmother had lived her whole life in a small village in Russia. When we discovered that this same small village still exists today, we decided to take a trip to see where my great-great-great-grandmother lived.

“When we got there, it looked like it hadn’t changed in 200 years, and we began to explore the small, crowded streets. Suddenly, we stumbled upon the very house in which my great-great-great-grandmother had lived. When we knocked on the door, an old woman came and asked us what we wanted. We told her – through our interpreter, of course – that she was living in the exact same house that my great-great-great-grandmother had lived in and we were curious to see what it was like. She immediately invited all of us into her home.

“While my parents were busy talking to the woman, I walked in to explore another room. As I looked around, I noticed that one of the floor boards was loose, so I pulled it up and discovered a very, very, very old and dusty book. I grabbed the book and ran back in to show my parents. The woman who lived there took the book from me and began to read it.

“She told me that it seemed as if I had actually found my great-great-great-grandmother’s diary. Here were stories all about how she lived, what she thought about and what her dreams were for the future.”Imagine how incredibly excited I was to find this book. It was the most amazing thing I had ever owned, and I was thrilled to be able to read all about my own ancestor’s life. Who wouldn’t want to find a remarkable diary like that?”

“And Rabbi Reuben,” said the young girl, “that is how I feel about my Bat Mitzvah. When you hand the Torah from my grandparents to my parents and then me, it will be just like I’m getting the oldest family diary that has ever been found. Like I am saying to everyone, ‘This is now my story, too.'”

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses recites the final poem that he has written in his diary. He begins this poetic conclusion to the entire Torah by challenging us to recognize that the words and laws, commandments and ethical foundation of the Torah “isn’t a trifling thing for you, it is your very life.” Indeed, at this most sacred season of the Jewish year, our real challenge is to figure out each day how to make the precious inheritance which is our own Torah wisdom a meaningful part of our everyday lives. Then, says Moses, we will long endure on the earth, and the world will be a more sacred and holy place because we are in it.

Steven Carr Reuben is senior rabbi of Kehillat Israel, the Reconstructionist congregation of Pacific Palisades.