Jerusalem high on new skyline


Ten years ago, Jerusalem was just starting to emerge from the Second Intifada, which scared away local residents as well as investors. Many shops and restaurants closed during that period, leaving hundreds of storefronts with “for sale” signs. 

Fast-forward 10 years, and Jerusalem feels like a vastly different city. Many trendy stores, restaurants and hotels have opened in the city center; there is a world-class shopping district in Mamilla, as well as the adjoining Alrov residential complex, right next to the Old City; and the suddenly chic Mahane Yehuda open-air market is now a huge tourist attraction. 

 An equally important sign of Jerusalem’s rebirth is the number of luxury apartment projects being built downtown and elsewhere. Several luxury buildings, some of them high-rises, have gradually changed the skyline and brought a sense of stability and affluence to a city not known for either.  

The city has approved several of these high-rises, sometimes to the chagrin of local tenants accustomed to Jerusalem being a low-rise city. The impetus came in 2006, after former Mayor Uri Lupolianski acceded to environmentalists’ pressure to scuttle the Safdie Plan, which would have expanded Jerusalem westward and added 20,000 housing units. Unable to move outward, the city had nowhere to go but up. 

In truth, the new luxury homes haven’t made a dent in the city’s chronic housing shortage because the average Jerusalemite can’t afford to purchase one. But no one denies that the projects have created numerous jobs, brought hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and generally improved the city’s atmosphere. 

Shay Lipman, a real estate analyst at Excellence Nessuah Brokerage Services in Petach Tikvah, said the city “began to turn around” about five years ago. 

“Today, we’re seeing demand from many foreigners, including Russians, who also like Tel Aviv, [and] Americans and Europeans, especially from France and Belgium, partly due to rising anti-Semitism. Many are religious Jews.” 

Some Israelis invest as well.  

Lipman said buyers may be businesspeople who spend several weeks or months in Israel for work “and want a home base and the high standard they’re used to.” 

Others are empty-nesters, often in their 50s and 60s, who want a spanking-new apartment with condo-style services — no more mowing the lawn or repairing the roof — with an on-site maintenance team. 

Still others are families with young children who visit Israel regularly, or new immigrants who’ve decided to make their home in Jerusalem.  

While most purchase apartments as their second — or third or fourth — home, many eventually use them as their primary residence, Lipman said. 

In Jerusalem, the most sought-after properties tend to be within easy walking distance of the Old City and the center of town. 

One of the most luxurious projects is King David’s Crown, located across the street from the King David Hotel, directly adjacent to the landmark Jerusalem YMCA building. The apartments, with three, four and five bedrooms and large balconies, have direct underground access to the YMCA sports center and overlook a 1.25-acre park. The buildings feature 24-hour security, Shabbat elevators and a beautiful synagogue. 

The homes range from more than $1 million to several million dollars. 

Another luxurious property is the Saidoff Houses project, a 23-story residential building close to the Mahane Yehuda shuk on Jaffa Road. It offers 90 penthouses and duplexes (three to six rooms), a pool, spa, gym and synagogue. The views are stunning.  


Some of the penthouses in the africa-israel Residences at 7 rav Kook St. cost more than $5 million. Their spacious terraces offer fantastic views of Jerusalem.  Photo by Michele Chabin

For sheer location, nothing beats the Africa-Israel Residences at 7 Rav Kook St., a surprisingly quiet street perpendicular to Jaffa Road. The other side of the building adjoins the Ticho House, the famed restaurant, museum and former home of the artist Anna Ticho.  

The project, which was jointly initiated by Africa-Israel and Shainfeld Investments, has 131 apartments, including 112 “premium” apartments, eight penthouses and 11 “grand” apartments. The ground floor offers 11 hotel rooms and has 12 retail stores. All of the premium apartments, with one to four bedrooms, have been sold; marketing has begun for the grand ($1.28 million to $2 million) and penthouse homes ($3.4 million to $5.7 million), the latter boasting large terraces. 

Despite being in the heart of the city, the building has the feel of an inner sanctum. The apartments are sunny and quiet, and offer marvelous views. The property includes a hotel-standard exercise room, a large event room for tenants and many other amenities, said Dalia Azar Malimouka, a spokeswoman for the residences. 

During a tour, she showed two penthouses. The first was unfinished, to enable prospective owners to design the apartment to their taste and specifications. The second, a nearly 800-square-foot apartment with a 155-square-foot balcony, was completely furnished. The wood-decked terrace, which comes with a huge wooden pergola (or sukkah frame), provides a fantastic view of much of the city. 

In a phone interview, Oren Hod, CEO of Africa-Israel, recalled the intifada years, “when the city was neglected.” Today, he said, “people feel safe and confident, and you see [this] in the amount of investment” in infrastructure and real estate. 

Hod acknowledged the new luxury homes being built in Jerusalem aren’t for everyone: “All of us have a budget, and not everyone can live in the heart of Jerusalem.”

Tourism to Israel reaches all-time high


Israel reported an all-time high in annual visitors in 2013.

A record 3.54 million visitors arrived in Israel in 2013, half a percent more than the previous record year. Meanwhile, some 272,000 tourists arrived in December, a 14 percent increase over December 2012, setting a record for most arrivals in the Jewish state in one month.

The figures were released Thursday by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Nearly 18 percent of tourists arrived from the United States, with some 623,000 Americans visiting. Russia sent 603,000 tourists, and France 315,000.

More than half the tourists, or 53 percent, were Christian; only 28 percent were Jewish.

Overall, tourism contributed about $11.4 billion to the Israeli economy in 2013, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

“The year 2013 is a record year for tourism, and we are proud of that. Despite Operation Pillar of Defense and the security situation in the region, tourists voted with their feet,” said Tourism Minister Uzi Landau.

Americans in Yemen fear kidnappings


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Luke, an American photographer and editor for an English-language local newspaper, lives in one of the tall historic buildings in the city.  With increased kidnappings of Westerners in Yemen, he also lives in fear.

The number of kidnappings has increased recently, with tribesmen or Al-Qa'ida terrorists using hostages either as bargaining chips for the release of imprisoned members or as a way to get a lucrative ransom.

Several foreigners have been abducted this year by either Al-Qa'ida gunmen or disgruntled tribesmen. Last month a Dutch couple was abducted here. Their location is still unknown. In May, gunmen abducted two South Africans in the southern province of Taiz. Three members of the Red Cross, including a Swiss citizen were also briefly held captive as well that month.

Although they refused to give an exact number of Westerners living in the country, Yemeni foreign ministry officials said that the number of Westerners here has plunged in recent years.

For the Westerners who live here despite the threats, the fear is always there, but they try to live as normal a life as they can, and believe reports of violence in Yemen are exaggerated by the media. 

Luke, 31, who arrived in 2011, says the situation has taken a toll on him. “There's no denying that as a foreigner, in particular a 'Westerner,' you stick out in Yemen. But while such news is certainly disturbing, it is clear to me that carrying around such worry or concern is neither helpful nor healthy.”

Luke says he tries not to think about the fear of kidnappings.

“I live my life as normally as I can,” he told The Media Line. “The fact that so many of the people who surround me on a daily basis are kind, helpful and genuinely curious [about me] helps in this regard.”

“I do sense that as long as foreigners aren't secreted away in compounds or constantly surrounded by security details, the unparalleled warmth and generosity of the Yemeni people can serve to assuage most daily fears or concerns about such things,” he told The Media Line.

Luke is hardly alone in facing down the fear of kidnapping in Yemen. Hundreds of Westerners here have to worry about increased violence and a growing lack of security.

“We pray every day for God's protection. And we feel that God is guiding our steps. That said, we also have to be careful and use our common sense regarding where to go,” a 47-year-old American teacher who requested anonymity, told The Media Line.

The language teacher, who has been living here for nine years, said Yemen's security and economy took a turn for the worse after the revolution in 2011 that ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“When we first came to Yemen, we would go in the car and visit cities and villages…But now we can't go out of the city due to the bad security situation,” she recalled.

The kidnappings and growing lack of security here have taken not only a psychological toll on the Westerners, but has hurt them economically as well.

Susan Coleman, co-owner of the Coffee Trader, a well-known coffee shop in Sana'a and one of a handful of businesses owned by Americans in the country, told The Media Line that kidnappings have hurt her business, which attracts foreign and Yemeni customers alike.

Coleman, 47, said she came here with her husband to study Arabic and teach English. But when they noticed there were no Western-style coffee shops in Yemen, they decided to open one in 2007.

She said that the coffee shop was a hit from the beginning, but business has fallen off lately because of the opening of rival coffee shops and the fear of kidnapping.

“We used to have people from embassies come, but now due to the security situation they don't come here because they fear for their safety.”

Despite putting up a positive front, Coleman refused to be photographed for security reasons and she says Westerners' need to maintain a low profile. She added that if security improved Yemen could become one of the biggest tourist hubs in the region.

Stan, from Washington, D.C., who arrived this summer to study Arabic, also thinks the country gets a bad rap, but exercises caution anyway on a daily basis.

“I arrived in Yemen just this summer, right in the thick of the current spate of kidnappings. I vary my schedule, keep solitary travel to a minimum, and stay in touch with friends and colleagues, particularly when I'm in a new or unfamiliar part of town. This is definitely distinct from my daily life back home.”

Besides his interest in learning Arabic, “I was really excited by the incredible developments Yemen is undergoing right now. Between the transitional government, the national dialogue and impending new constitution and elections, this is an incredible time to be in Yemen and I wanted to take advantage of it.”

He refuses to allow the fear of kidnappings to get in the way of his goals. “The kidnapping of Westerners is something that saddens me but does not ultimately affect my daily life. Hearing about kidnappings is a reminder of a number of things.  It's a reminder that there are risks being a foreigner in Sana'a, It's a reminder there are groups in Yemen that are willing to use foreigners to further their political or ideological goals,” he told The Media Line.

Nonetheless, Stan, 24, refuses to let the tension scare him away from his goal of learning about the country and its people. “I came to Yemen to meet Yemeni people, experience Yemeni culture and society, and improve my Arabic. I cannot do those things from the safety of my dorm room, nor do I think that remaining indoors is substantially safer than living prudently in greater Sana'a. The kidnappings don't worry me, because I feel that worrying doesn't accomplish anything. They simply remind me to be safe, while also inspiring a hope that current hostages will be returned safely and soon.”

Reacting to accusations that Yemen is a major terrorist center, Stan said: “The presence of terrorist groups does not a 'terrorist hub' make. The US and its media outlets love the words 'terrorist' and Al Qa'ida and are eager to report on these things with inflammatory news bites and oversimplified headlines. …We're used to relying on the media to tell us everything about other countries, and we do the same for Yemen. So when an attack by Al-Qa'ida is mentioned as having taken place in Yemen, it fits in nicely with the narrative the media has started to build, and which Americans in general have accepted, that Yemen is a desert country with terrorist groups running around everywhere.”

He says the international community should take a closer look at Yemen.

“It's easy to assume the worst about a people or country halfway across the world; I would want to start correcting those assumptions,” Stan told The Media Line.

The American embassy won't provide numbers of Americans residing or visiting the country either.  But US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein said: “Al-Qa'ida has consistently made clear it wishes to harm American citizens and we take such threats very seriously. As a matter of policy, we do not publicly discuss our security posture.”

Despite the kidnappings, Stan hopes Yemen can earn a better reputation among foreigners.

“The most important thing for me would be to inform Americans that Yemenis distinguish between the American government and an average American person. Many Yemenis strongly dislike the former, but I have not met a single Yemeni who disliked me for being the latter. Every Yemeni I've spoken to has been gracious and welcoming. They have gone out of their way to make sure that  they do not harbor ill will toward me because of the actions of my government, and that they are glad that I have traveled to Yemen,” Stan concluded.

‘Come back [to Israel] and bring a lot of people with you’


“No Shopping!” guide Nadav Kersh admonished his charges as they entered the crowded Old City of Jerusalem. “I mean it. No shopping! It’s just too easy to get lost here.”

Kersh was guiding a group of tour operators from the U.S., U.K. and South Africa on a whirlwind tour of the holy places in Jerusalem. Simultaneously, other tour groups were listening to guides speaking Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German. They are part of a group of 160 tour operators invited by the Ministry of Tourism for a week-long trip to Israel.

The day began at the Israel Museum, and a visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls housed in a special building shaped like a giant white Hershey’s kiss.

“Scrolls are like money,” Kersh told them. “The more they get used, the more worn out they get. Anyone know which book of the Bible is the most popular?”

“Psalms?” asks Tony Lock from the UK.

“Right!” answers Kersh. “Even today, if you go on a bus in Israel you see old ladies reading Psalms. Here you’ll see one of the oldest versions of Psalms.”

After a quick circuit of the museum, the tour operators were given a preview of an upcoming exhibition on the Roman king of Judea, Herod the Great, who ruled the area from 40 BC to 4 BC and has been described both as a genius and a madman.

“It will be the first exhibition in the world about Herod,” David Mevorah, the museum’s archaeology curator, told the group. “It took us 40 years to find his tomb, but that convinced us to do the exhibit. Herod was a massive builder in stone and the [Second Jewish] Temple [in Jerusalem] was his greatest project.”

After a detailed PowerPoint presentation, the group headed off to the Old City of Jerusalem. At the fifth station of the Via Dolorosa, the path that Christians believe Jesus walked on the way to crucifixion, Kersh points out a stone handprint, which tradition says belonged to Jesus. Many in the group touch their hand to the stone.

“To me, this whole city has a special feeling,” Phyllis Brown told The Media Line about her first trip to Israel. “I’m really very impressed. Jerusalem is simply breathtaking. I expected it to be flatter and more desert-like, but it is so pretty.”

Brown, from Santa Barbara, California, has sent about 10 clients on trips to Israel each year, but now hopes to increase that.

“I definitely feel more capable now to organize a group,” she says.

The trip came just a few days after the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas after eight days of heavy fighting. Brown says that while she was not afraid to visit Israel, her adult children were concerned and asked her to cancel her trip.

“There was about a week when I didn’t hear anything from the Tourism Ministry and I wasn’t sure if the trip was on,” Brown says. “But within 24 hours of the cease-fire they sent a barrage of emails making sure we were still coming.”

Another tour operator, Douglas Kostwoski from Travel People in Miami, Florida, agreed.

“As soon as I saw the cease-fire was holding, I started packing,” he told The Media Line. “I already send about 100 people each year to Israel, but my mind keeps racing with new things to add to the itinerary and what I’ll tell potential clients.”

Israeli tourism officials said the group’s visit became even more important after the fighting in Gaza.

“There is no doubt that Operation Pillar of Defense affected incoming tourism,” Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said. “But we are already taking steps toward swift rehabilitation, minimizing damage and renewing the momentum of incoming tourism over the last three years.”

Tourism is a key economic sector in Israel. In 2010, some 3.45 million tourists visited Israel and 2012 was set to bring even more. Officials are also targeting previously untapped markets, including India and China. In 2009, according to the Ministry of Tourism, the sector brought $3.3 billion into Israel’s economy. More than half of the tourists visiting are Christian, while 40 percent are Jewish.

“There are some church groups coming from Mumbai,” Sarah ReSello, from Go Beyond Travels India, told The Media Line. “But we will be trying to get them to also go to the Red Sea resort of Eilat and the Dead Sea.”

It is impossible to visit Israel without some talk of politics. Tour guide Kersh told the visitors how the Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters – Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim – but how the residents of the quarters are also mixed.

“Take the Muslim Quarter, for example, which is the largest with 20,000 inhabitants,” he said. “You can have Christians living there, and even some Jews. If you see Israeli flags there, it means that a Jewish Israeli bought the house and he wants to annoy his neighbors.”

“Are all four quarters safe?” Kostowski asks.

“Yes,” replies Kersh. “The whole country is safe.”

Czech Republic surprises with Jewish treasures


A tight budget, an embarrassing exchange rate and exponentially expensive flights — it's a tough time to be an American, and an even tougher time to be an American traveler. But it's still possible to enjoy a first-rate European experience while keeping travel costs reasonable.

The Czech Republic's strong cultural balance between bustling urban life and calm rural communities features a wide variety of tourism options, from breweries to castles to Jewish ghettos. Major cities like Prague and Pilsen are ripe with history at nearly every corner, and Jewish tours offer everything from the construction of the second-largest synagogue in Europe to the creation of the mythical Golem.

Birthplace of Theodore Herzl, Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud, this increasingly progressive country is trying to shed the specter of the Nazi and Soviet occupations and embrace its Jewish past and present to bolster tourism, an important part of its national economy. (Full disclosure: The Journal took part in a Jewish Heritage trip sponsored by Czech Tourism.)

Divided into three main regions — Bohemia in the north, Moravia in the south and Silesia in the East — the Czech Republic provides travelers with an opportunity to savor both metropolitan grandeur and bucolic settings. While prices aren't cheap, U.S. tourists will appreciate favorable current exchange rates with the Czech crown that keep hotel and food costs comparable to a comfortable domestic getaway.

The Bohemian city of Prague features an abundance of landmarks — the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle — a rich arts tradition and deep Jewish roots.

The Jewish Museum in Prague is not a physical entity, but rather a collection of gothic and Moorish revival synagogues in Josefov, the city's Jewish quarter, and its Old Jewish Cemetery, with tilted, crumbling tombstones — some more than 600 years old. Synagogues on the tour include the Maisel Synagogue, Spanish Synagogue, Klausen Synagogue and Ceremonial Hall and Pinkas Synagogue. Inside, the sanctuaries display hundreds of artifacts, including refurbished Torah covers, silver yads (Torah pointers) and other ritual artifacts.

Prague's Jewish Museum, which attracts 500,000 to 600,000 visitors each year, honors the past while also helping to support the country's Jewish future. Much of the museum's revenue aids funding for the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Czech Republic, which compensates Holocaust survivors and develops programming for young people, executive director Tomas Kraus said.

The area's two active synagogues, the 13th century Old-New Synagogue (Alt-Neu Shul) and the High Synagogue, are not on the museum tour itinerary, but public tours are available through the Jewish Museum for an additional fee.

In the Old-New Synagogue, the great Rabbi Judah Loew is rumored to have created the Golem, the mystical monster intended to protect the Jews of Prague from anti-Semitic attacks in the 16th century. When the Golem became increasingly violent, Loew struck a deal with the oppressors and destroyed his creation by simply rubbing out the first letter of the word “emet” (truth) from its forehead, leaving the word “met,” meaning death. According to the legend, the whereabouts of a Golem remains unknown, but many believe it's still in the synagogue's attic.

Multiple tourist shops have capitalized on the Golem myth and feature a hefty inventory of miniature dolls sure to satisfy anyone's souvenir needs.

Outside the Jewish quarter, the beauty of Prague is best experienced through a walk from Prague Castle to the scenic Charles Bridge and into Old Town Square, a site featuring street entertainment and dining, particularly the traditional staple of Czech cuisine — beef goulash.

Bohemia is also home to Europe's second-largest synagogue, The Great Synagogue of Pilsen, which features a variety of architectural styles ranging from Moorish to art nouveau. The synagogue was built in 1892, a time when the city of Pilsen's Jewish population was about 5,000.

Jiri Lowy, vice president of the Pilsen Jewish Community, says that the synagogue is now mainly used as concert hall for a community of about 100 Jews and a museum for tourists.

Pilsen is also known for its world-famous brewery, Pilsner Urqell, which dates back to the mid-19th century. Beer has been a part of the city's history since at least the 13th century, and Czechs revel in their country's branding as “the beer-drinking capital of the world.” National consumption is so pronounced that bottles of beer are often cheaper than bottled water.

To complement tours of Prague and Pilsen, a trip to the outer towns of Moravia provides insight into the origins of the nation's smaller Jewish communities.

The Jewish Quarter of Trebic, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is made up of 120 homes along the bank of the Jihlava River. While no longer home to an organized Jewish community, Trebic maintains its Jewish cemetery, a renovated synagogue-turned-museum and a recently discovered mikvah.

Non-Jewish villagers of Boskovice and Mikulov have taken it upon themselves to preserve the memory of their once-thriving Jewish cultures. These righteous guides provide tours of old synagogues, buildings and cemeteries. Boskovice, set in the Drahanska Highlands, features one of the largest cemeteries in the Czech Republic.

While the Renaissance town of Telc has a Jewish cemetery but little significant Jewish history, its main square — which is more of a triangle, some locals joke — has been preserved as a UNESCO site. Pastel-colored shops, packed together like crayons tips sticking out of a box, line the square's cobblestone roads.

Important for any Czech travel itinerary is Terezin, the former ghetto-like concentration camp and Holocaust memorial. The bricked fortress, dating back to the late 18th century, was built as a military prison. Within the compound, yellow walls, topped with barbed wire, skirt the smaller, more severe prison section of the ghetto.

A day trip to Terezin offers an important contrast to an otherwise colorful land whose people recognize the importance of commemorating Jews who lost their lives to Nazi oppression. Even as the country continues to find its footing after the fall of the former Soviet Union, the mood of the Czech Republic reflects an overall optimism as the reality of its own independence becomes more engrained.

Although cultural and religious restrictions are a thing of the past, the Czech Republic is still healing from the hard lessons experienced by previous generations. Britney Spears billboards, nightclub strobe lights and soccer regalia indicate that young Czechs believe in a future filled with opportunity. The graffiti on the walls speaks to a love of pop culture rather than a culture of hate.

The birthplace of the Golem and pilsner beer is a destination that brings together Jewish and non-Jewish culture in ways that exceed Western expectations of a gray, downtrodden nation. Rich in artistic, architectural and historical heritage, the country pays dividends with its vibrant Bohemian skylines and fertile Moravian countryside.

For more information, visit

U.S. Jewish Population Rising; California and Israel Join in Tourism Pact


U.S. Jewish Population Rising?

The new American Jewish Yearbook reports that there are 6.4 million Jews in the United States. That’s significantly more than the 5.2 million figure provided by the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Study.

The yearly survey, published by the American Jewish Committee, is based on a tally of individual Jewish communities across the country. According to the survey, 2.2 percent of the American population is Jewish. New York has the largest Jewish population of any state with 1,618,000, followed by California with 1,194,000, Florida with 653,000 and New Jersey with 480,000, the AJCommittee said in a release.

California and Israel Join in Tourism Pact

The state of California and the state of Israel have jointly established a commission to encourage their citizens to visit each other, proving again that the Golden State is big enough to conduct its own foreign policy. At a recent ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Isaac Herzog, Israel’s Minister of Tourism, signed an agreement launching the California-Israel Tourism Commission. Both credited Los Angeles-based media mogul Haim Saban for the initiative to establish the commission.

During the ceremony, Schwarzenegger recalled that he has visited Israel three times, first as a body builder, then to open his Planet Hollywood restaurant in Tel Aviv and last year for the groundbreaking of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

No breakdown was available on the number of Californians visiting Israel, or Israelis visiting California, however, the latest figures from Israeli tourism officials showed that between January-September of this year, 1.5 million tourists came to Israel, of whom 400,000 were Americans. In 2005, Israel had 2 million visitors, among them 533,000 Americans.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Iran Hosts Holocaust Deniers Conference

The Iranian government held a conference of Holocaust deniers and skeptics this week, a discussion of whether 6 million Jews actually were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

A report in The New York Times quoted the opening speech by Rasoul Mousavi, head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies, which organized the event, saying that the conference would allow discussion “away from Western taboos and the restriction imposed on them in Europe.”

Speakers at the event include David Duke, the American white-supremacist politician and former Ku Klux Klan leader, and Georges Thiel, a French writer who has been prosecuted in France over his denials of the Holocaust, the Times reported.

— Staff Report

Seattle Rabbi Regrets Xmas Tree Removal

A Chabad rabbi in Seattle expressed regret that his request to add a menorah to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport’s display of Christmas trees resulted in the trees’ removal.

“I am devastated, shocked and appalled at the decision that the Port of Seattle came to,” Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Pacific Northwest said in Monday’s Seattle Times.

Last week, Bogomilsky’s attorney Harvey Grad threatened the port with a lawsuit after not receiving a response to a request, first made in October, to install an 8-foot menorah, which Bogomilsky offered to supply.

Port Commissioner Pat Davis told the Times that the commission had not heard about the request until Dec. 7, the day before Grad was to head to court.

An airport spokesperson said it was decided to take down the trees because the airport, preparing for its busiest season, did not have time to accommodate all the religions that would have wanted a display.

The removal resulted in a firestorm of criticism, much of it directed at Bogomilsky, who said he never wanted to see the trees removed.

Thousands March for Hezbollah

Hundreds of thousands of protesters led by Hezbollah marched in downtown Beirut Sunday to demand that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora either cede some government power to the terrorist group and its allies or resign, The Associated Press reported.

Hezbollah has been pressing for increased power since its war with Israel over the summer. Lebanese troops Sunday sealed off Siniora’s compound, as well as the roads nearby. Siniora and most of his ministers have stayed in the complex since Dec. 1, when Hezbollah launched massive protests aimed at toppling Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Senate Approves Red ‘Crystal’

The U.S. Senate certified the Red “Crystal,” paving the way for Magen David Adom’s acceptance into the International Red Cross’ bodies. The Red Cross approved the symbol which resembles a playing card diamond earlier this year, ending a decades-long shutout of non-Muslim and non-Christian groups such as Israel’s first responder, which rejected using the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols as inappropriate. The Red Cross had also rejected the Star of David symbol used by MDA.

The Senate’s certification last Friday, the last day of Congress, protects the symbol’s copyright and follows similar legislation passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Israeli Hostages Said Wounded

Two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah since July were seriously wounded during their capture, security sources said. Israeli security sources last week quoted a declassified military report that said bloodstains and other evidence gathered at the site of the July 12 border raid in which Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were seized showed the hostages were seriously wounded.

To survive, the sources said, the two army reservists would have required immediate medical attention, something that may not have been available in the custody of the Lebanese terrorist group.

Hezbollah has refused to provide information on the captives’ condition, saying it would only release them as part of a swap for Arabs held in Israeli jails. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled out a swap on Hezbollah’s terms unless the terrorist group provides information on the soldiers’ health. The captives’ families criticized the release of forensic details from the raid.

“I think this may be an attempt by the Prime Minister’s Office to lower pressure to get the kidnapped soldiers freed,” Regev’s brother, Benny, told Israel Radio.

Jaffa flea market offers bargains and co-existence


A young woman from Tel Aviv made her way past tapestries, bracelets and scarves toward a row of brightly hued polyester shirts. She admired a blue button-down with white polka dots before flitting away like a butterfly into a narrow arcade of the Jaffa Flea Market.

“There is magic here,” said 25-year-old Dikla Delugathc, a regular visitor to this bargain-hunters’ haven in Jaffa, one of Israel’s — and the world’s — oldest cities.

The magic of the Jaffa Flea Market derives from both its past and present. The market began as a small bazaar in the mid-19th century. It is a rare remnant of the old Middle Eastern way of life in this modern Jewish country. But the market is also a place where Jews and Muslims work side by side as neighbors and friends.

I visited the market this month on a trip sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. The agency brought a handful of journalists to the Jewish state in an effort to combat the current tourism slump, which had worsened since the war with Hezbollah this summer. Only 25,000 Americans visited Israel last month, representing a 25 percent drop from last year.

We had come to Jaffa, a port city in southern Tel Aviv, to explore its ancient history. Jaffa is about 4,000 years old, and the Bible mentions it as the port from which the prophet Jonah sailed before being swallowed by the whale. King Solomon transported through Jaffa the cedars he used to construct the Temple in Jerusalem.

Some say Jaffa derives from yafeh, Hebrew for beautiful; others say it comes from Noah’s son Japhet, who, as legend has it, built the city after the Flood.
The Jaffa Flea Market sits to the east of a clock tower in the city’s center. It is open every day but Saturday from about 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Along the market’s main street, Olei Zion, antique dealers sell furniture and rugs from hole-in-the-wall shops.

On this particular day, a group of old men played cards on the sidewalk; Jews wrapped in tallit and tefillin led afternoon prayers from a tapestry store; and a grifter slid cards around on a cardboard box, attempting to lure passersby into placing bets.

The market extends onto side streets and winds into covered alleys, or arcades, where shoppers walk through narrow passageways, navigating a sea of clothing, jewelry and trinkets.

Inside an arcade, Ronit Raz, 47, picked up a string of decorative bells and gave it a rattle.

The market “gives you a sense of traveling back in time,” said Raz, who drove half an hour to Jaffa from her home near Kfar Saba.

A group of Delta flight attendants stood nearby, chatting about their purchases: a table runner and some pillow covers. A couple of the women sipped pomegranate juice purchased from a nearby drink stand, which blasted American music. (Of all the songs one might expect in the Holy Land, who would guess the Black Eyed Peas’ sexy hit, “My Humps”?)

David Desire Dahan, a Jewish antique dealer, strolled through an outdoor square when a vendor solicited his advice.

“What is this?” the vendor asked in Hebrew, showing him a small silver plate.
Dahan turned the plate upside down. “It’s Mexican silver,” he said.

Dahan recently opened a large furniture store at the market, where he had for sale a set of French chairs and a sofa from the time of Louis XIV and a $5,000 mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinet from Syria.

On a break from business, Dahan, 62, walked past the blankets piled with old watches and computer parts, through the sound of chitchat and the smell of cigarette smoke and incense.

Suddenly, his face lit up. Dahan walked over to a man in a black knit hat and thrust his arm around him.

“This,” Dahan said, patting the Muslim man on the shoulder, “is one of my best friends.”

Such scenes of religious co-existence are commonplace here. Jewish vendors wearing kippahs sit beside Israeli Arabs. They play cards together, joke with one another. One shop sells the traditional Arabic kaffiyeh headscarf; another sells Star of David pendants. Even observant Muslims and religious Jews live, work and play together in Jaffa.

In a carpet shop on Pinkas Ben-Yair Street, a religious Jew, Rami Sinay, had just finished putting on tefillin. Beside him stood his Muslim partner, Hussein Ali.

“We’ve known each other for 20 years,” said Sinay, 27.

“Here, Muslims and Jews have no problem,” he added. “Because we live together in Jaffa, we know everybody’s the son of God.”

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

How to Bargain Effectively at an Israeli Flea Market


Israeli antique dealer David Desire Dahan said he has traveled to Africa, Turkey, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and more in search of antiques. He claims to have once sold a Stradivarius cello to a museum for $1 million. Here are his tips:

  • Talk to the person selling the goods. See if he’s a good man, if you can trust him.
  • Find an item that resembles something you own and ask how much it costs. You know how much you bought it for.
  • Collect the same type of things, made from the same material, in the same time period. Then you’ll have a beautiful collection at the end of your life.
  • Buy silver or antique jewelry, not large, expensive items like furniture. Collect big things only if you have a big house and a big pocket.
  • Don’t argue with a salesman over the price, but do bargain. If a seller asks for $100, start negotiating at around $60. If you offer much less than the seller asks — $20, for example — it might be taken as an insult.
  • Go with someone in the know, who speaks the language and is familiar with the flea market. When a seller sees a tourist, he typically asks for a higher price.
  • Contact a seller in advance. If you’re looking for a specific item, ask a seller whether he can find it for you. If you e-mail me about something you want, I’ll find it. Give me two weeks, and I’ll send you a picture and price by e-mail.

Dahan can be reached via e-mail at liordahan79@hotmail.com.

— SPB

Jews join the quest for space commerce


In the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a commercial Pan Am Space Clipper flight carries civilians to the wheel-shaped Space Station V, which features a Hilton Hotel and a Howard Johnson’s. Naturally, the calls to Earth via videophone are handled by AT&T’s forerunner Bell, and the charges for the call go on American Express.

While the film’s rampant commercialism was more social commentary than foresight, recent technological advances have boosted private enterprise into a field once considered government’s exclusive domain.

Commercial space interests are now playing a critical role in the dawn of the second space age — one built on business ventures and international cooperation. Instead of Hilton and Pan Am, the corporate names associated with the commercialization of space include Budget Suites and Virgin.

A new space race by corporate interests is being fueled by the dreams — and wallets — of prosperous entrepreneurs. Their investments are leading to the kind of technological developments that seemed like science fiction a decade ago. And Jews are represented in all aspects of the field, from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to former NASA director turned consultant Dan Goldin.
“It’s at every level. You see Jews in leadership positions as well as rank-and-file engineers and lawyers,” said Mike Gold, a Brandeis graduate who serves as corporate counsel for Bigelow Aerospace, a commercial spacecraft and space habitat company founded by Budget Suites mogul Robert Bigelow. “It’s part of the dream that a lot of people share.”

The tantalizing prospect of manned space travel was first realized by Yuri Gagarin’s flight aboard the Soviet-made Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961, which was followed by the U.S. team of Alan Shepard and John Glenn in NASA’s Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962.
Immediately after the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1968, air carriers Pan Am and TWA started taking reservations for future flights to the moon; Pan Am logged more than 90,000 reservations.

The Reagan administration provided the legal framework for private space travel in 1984 with the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Act. Under government regulations, the FAA’s Office for Commercial Space Transportation oversees private space launches, while the Office of Space Commercialization, part of the NOAA Satellite and Information Service, coordinates space-related issues, programs and initiatives within the Department of Commerce.

But space tourism continued to be viewed as the stuff of “2001” until former JPL scientist Dennis Tito paid $20 million to U.S.-based Space Adventures to visit the International Space Station on April 28, 2001, with the assistance of Russia’s federal space agency. His seven-day space holiday, and that of three other space tourists, has brought the dream of civilian space flight another step closer.

But the reality on the ground is that the industry carries tremendous pressures, especially to build successful business strategies that don’t rely on a few wealthy entrepreneurs’ bank accounts.

“One of the reasons why there hasn’t been a lot of truly commercial ventures in the space industry to date are the large upfront capital requirements,” said Lawrence Williams, vice president for international and government affairs at SpaceX, who is Jewish and came to the industry through communications work for the Clinton administration and Bill Gates’ satellite project Teledesics. “That’s why typically it’s only been governments that have been involved in this.”

The first private space flight took place on June 21, 2004, when the commercial suborbital craft, SpaceShipOne, reached a point more than 100 kilometers above the earth. The estimated $25 million cost of developing SpaceShipOne, which was built by Scaled Composites and went on to capture the $10 million Ansari X Prize on Oct. 4, was underwritten exclusively by Microsoft’s Allen.
His Mojave Aerospace is now licensing the technology to VirginGalactic, which plans to send up 500 people annually on a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo ships starting in 2008. The reservation list currently stands at about 65,000 people, with suborbital trips costing $208,000 per passenger.

Companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, Space Island Group and Bigelow Aerospace know that establishing a profitable presence in space must be based on more than just enabling passengers to experience seven minutes of weightlessness or allowing private citizens to live aboard an orbiting space hotel for a week. Industry experts say the only proven revenue stream thus far has been satellite development and satellite launches.

Alon Gany, head of the Fine Rocket Propulsion Center at Technion–Israel’s Institute of Technology, said that space investment from Israel’s private sector is tied almost exclusively to satellite technologies.

“One of the main efforts is the improvement of communication satellites. The other thing is developing specific components that are necessary for advanced satellites, like high-resolution cameras and cameras in different wavelengths, like infrared,” he said.
Risk-averse firms are looking to opportunities that can turn a profit — from satellites launches and NASA supply contracts to unique research and development in a zero-gravity environment.

“There’s all sorts of new drug treatments and biotech development that you can do in microgravity that you can’t do on Earth. It’s like opening up a whole new laboratory where all the rules are different because everything reacts differently,” Bigelow Aerospace counsel Gold said.

Gold, 33, said his work for Bigelow Aerospace is the fulfillment of a longstanding dream fed by the first space age.

“I grew up a ‘Star Trek’ fan, my grandfather worked on the Apollo missions, and I always had a huge interest in space.

Unfortunately, my interest was directly proportional to my lack of skill in the sciences, which is why I had to find my way to it via law,” he said.

Gold says that while space travel carries inherent dangers, private industry stands to lose more from a catastrophic loss than the federal government.

“Even without government regulation, we’re already highly incentivized. If we want to have industry here, customers and participants need to have a safe, reliable and affordable system in place,” he said.

As private industry prepares to stake claims in space following government’s Lewis-and-Clark-like exploration of the final frontier, many experts believe that a side benefit of putting more civilians in orbit will be a greater push for peace on Earth, especially in hot spots like the Middle East.

A Swiss Family Bind — No Hotel Heirs


 

In Switzerland, resorts like St. Moritz and Arosa are second only to chocolate and cheese fondue in popularity. But these two disparate destinations, more easily accessible by train than car, both offer something rarely found in other Swiss mountain retreats — kosher hotels.

The Hotel Edelweiss in St. Moritz and the Hotel Metropol in Arosa are Jewish sanctuaries for observant tourists, offering everything from kosher dining and space for simchas to daily religious services and snow-melt mikvahs. They are family-run havens that inspire fierce loyalty in their guests, sometimes drawing generations of families from countries like England, Israel and the United States.

As the hotels prepare for the big Pesach rush that marks the end of the winter season, the couples that run the Edelweiss and Metropol are looking forward to returning home to Zurich. But they are also wrestling with doubts about the future of these kosher hideaways, and one question looms: Who will take over the family business?

In glitzy St. Moritz, women don fur coats as they window shop stores like Gucci and Armani, and the ski instructors suit up in Prada-designed uniforms. People flock to the town’s spas and nosh in its tea rooms, or they turn to funicular-accessible Corviglia for skiing and hiking.

A short walk from the central area of St. Moritz-Dorf brings guests to the Hotel Edelweiss, a family affair that has served kosher-conscious consumers since 1883. Leopold Bermann grew up in the hotel, which catered to Jewish American soldiers after World War II. He is the third Bermann to run the Edelweiss, having taken over for his father at 22 in 1953. His British-born wife, Rita, has worked alongside “Poldi,” as his family calls him, since 1960.

“All of our children have been married here,” said Leopold Bermann, referring to his four daughters and one son.

Now 73, Bermann continues to operate what he says is the world’s oldest-operating Jewish hotel, but he has no clear successor. Only one of his five children, Shoshana, still lives in Switzerland, and while his son, Josef, bought the hotel a few years ago, he leaves the management up to his parents. His son has expressed no interest in returning to Switzerland from Israel, so the Bermanns are pinning their hopes on the grandchildren.

Their 20-year-old granddaughter from Jerusalem, Rachel Bitton, spent her first season working at the hotel this winter. She’s looking forward to starting a family, but she’s not sure if she wants to do it in Switzerland.

“For now, I still want to live in Israel,” she said. “I’m really connected to the hotel, and I feel like I need to be here, but I don’t know.”

Rita Bermann, who left London to be with her husband, hopes Bitton will make a similar choice to carry on the family tradition.

“She’s the best to take over,” she said.

A half-day rail trip shared by the Glacier Express and Rhätischen Bahn takes travelers through Graubünden’s glacial valleys. It’s clear when arriving in Arosa that the resort is the polar opposite of St. Moritz.

“St. Moritz is high society. Here is a place where everyone is welcome,” said Marcel Levin, owner of Arosa’s Hotel Metropol.

One main street is the focus of all activity in this sleepy hamlet, where parents take their bundled-up babies out in sleds rather than strollers, and couples snuggle ensconced under thick blankets in horse-drawn sleighs.

Levin, 52, was born and grew up in Arosa. He talks glowingly of non-Jewish friends carrying schoolbooks for him on Shabbat and putting up a sukkah in more than a foot of snow. His father purchased the Metropol in 1949, and Levin took over the hotel in 1975, one year after he married his Israeli wife, Lea.

Levin happily shmoozes in the dining room, talking with guests as they eat, while his wife works behind the scenes with the staff. But this jovial man turns serious when he talks about the Metropol’s future. Jewish tourism is changing in Arosa, he said, and more people are starting to rent homes, turning to his hotel only for religious services and meals. It’s a sentiment echoed by the Bermanns in St. Moritz.

“Everything is going to private apartments, so we’re a bit scared,” he said.

Levin said none of his six children have expressed interest in taking over the hotel, but he still has some time on his side before he retires. “Maybe one will take it over,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

In the meantime, Marcel and Lea Levin say they still take full advantage of their seasonal stays in Arosa. A few times a week at noon, they walk to the Weisshorn and take a tram to the halfway point, the Mittlestation, to enjoy the view of towering snow-covered peaks and take in the crisp mountain air.

“We’re new people after half an hour,” Levin said.

For more information about the Hotel Edelweiss, call 011-41-(0)81-836-5555. For more information about the Hotel Metropol, call 011-41-(0)81-378-8181 or visit www.levinarosa.com.

For Swiss travel information, call (877) 794-8037 or visit www.myswitzerland.com. Switzerland Tourism paid the writer’s travel expenses.

 

‘Sunday’ Aids Argentina


With Super Sunday approaching March 3, The Journal spoke with John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, to get his impressions on this year’s daylong phone-a-thon.

Fishel, who hopes to raise another $3 million to $5 million in the coming year in response to crises in Israel and Argentina, just returned from a six-day stay in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where he met with the Jewish Agency for Israel to discuss how to best address both situations. Fishel also visited various Federation agencies and projects based in Israel. Since the intifada began, The Federation has been active in supporting services that aid victims and emergency professionals affected by Middle East violence.

Jewish Journal: What will be the big difference between this year’s Super Sunday and those of years past?

John Fishel: You’ve got a major Jewish world crisis in Argentina, where there’s an enormous need, and the federations are being asked to react quickly and generously. With Argentina, that means in terms of both making aliyah and providing relief to people who need food and shelter.

JJ: What did you see on your trip to Israel this time around?

JF: A very heightened concern for community, and veritably no tourism. They’re really experiencing some significant financial problems, high unemployment, over 10 percent. There are almost daily attacks and violence. Although you don’t physically see it, you feel it. They need to feel that we’re with them.

There are a lot of incidents occurring. But I saw nothing in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv that makes us have to fear for our lives. It’s a question of not only giving, but being there. I can’t think of a time when people over there were happier to see people from the Diaspora. The hotels and restaurants there are just empty.

JJ: Are there any indications to believe that the residual effect of the Jewish Community Centers crisis and the way unfolding events were perceived by the community and by the press will affect Super Sunday contributions?

JF: No, I don’t believe they will. I’m sure that there’ll be people who, as always, will question supporting us, but the vast, vast majority of people understand it’s a campaign that touches many Jews here and abroad. They believe in the system, and they’ll contribute accordingly.

JJ: What are some of the changes and new directions that we can look forward to in 2002 from The Jewish Federation?

JF: We would like to see if we can facilitate a more extensive and successful effort to reach teens here in town. We’re beginning to talk to a bunch of organizations in town to see how best to expedite this.

JJ: With the dissolution of ACCESS, what will happen in terms of young leadership?

JF: ACCESS has not been dissolved. The staff has been reassigned. You’ve got multiple entities under The Federation auspices — entertainment division, legal, apparel. The idea is to build the framework for young leaders in the community, not just for The Federation, but for our agencies and lots of other Jewish organizations.

What I am also hoping for will be an expansion of senior housing — Menorah Housing — an opportunity for a very significant expansion in terms of those who are older and need a place to live, not necessarily in a nursing home, but in a quality home where they’re able to live in dignity. That’s going to become more and more important.

JJ: Any other thoughts on Super Sunday?

JF: It’s a great event. It engages people from throughout the community and we believe that even in the midst of an economic slowdown, people still believe in the community and in coming together.

The Circuit


Don’t Believe the Hype

Media be warned — skewed reportage of Middle East stability is being actively countered by Jews and Arabs alike.

The Israel Ministry of Tourism and the Jordan Tourism Board of North America co-sponsored a dinner event pitched to sell the charms of Israel and Jordan as must-see destinations. The two bureaus set out to quell any qualms among travel agents about sending tourists to visit the region. And judging by the turnout — more than 500 travel agents packed the Regent Beverly Wilshire’s ballroom — the travel industry was eager to understand how best to sell the Middle East in light of the recent violence.

Israel Ministry of Tourism Western USA Director Rami Levy told his audience that what Israel faces is “an image problem, not a security problem,” adding, “We are victims of CNN and other media in the region.”

Speaking of CNN, talk show host Larry King was supposed to make the event but couldn’t, so he videotaped a special message from the backyard of his Beverly Hills home. With Levy by his side, King announced that he will be visiting Israel this fall, and he urged those in the audience to do the same. Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel also videotaped a testimonial on behalf of Israel, speaking favorably of a recent Federation-sponsored mission. Among the 170 community leaders on that solidarity trip was Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Federation-based Board of Rabbis of Southern California, who said from the podium, “I never felt as embraced as on this recent trip.”

According to Malia Asfour, director of Jordan Tourism Board of North America, Israel and Jordan have been working together to promote mutual tourism since the two countries brokered peace in October 1994. Dozens of workshops have already been held in places such as New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Seattle, and Portland, Ore.

“It’s such a natural extension of one another,” Asfour told the Circuit, adding that the violence has had a ripple effect. “All the countries in the region are affected. What tourism does is break down barriers, the misperceptions,” she said.

Asfour opened her presentation by asking those in the audience who have never visited Jordan to stand up. When most people in the room rose to their feet, she facetiously chided them: “You’re all being punished, and now you have to stand through the rest of my presentation.”

Asfour reinforced the Israeli-Jordanian partnership theme and sang the praises of Jordanian destinations such as Jerash and Mount Nebo, from which Moses saw the Promised Land. She said only 1,500 tourists a day are allowed into the ancient sandstone-carved city of Petra, in order to preserve the site.

Levy, speaking of his visit to Petra a few years ago as the guest of King Hussein of Jordan, told the audience of how they shared a helicopter ride over the city. Levy called it “one of the most exciting moments of my life.”

In spite of the strife during the last months of 2000, Israeli tourism last year was twice that of 1993. And the United States’ West Coast, including California’s 1.5 million Jews (one of Israeli tourism’s biggest markets), played a large part in making Israel a vibrant, beautiful travel destination, Levy added.

“Go see for yourself,” he said.

For more information on travel to Israel, call the Israeli Ministry of Tourism at (323) 658-7463 or visit www.goisrael.com. For more information on travel to Jordan, call 1-877-SeeJordan or go to www.seejordan.org .

Music and New Media Unite

The Music/Entertainment and Hi-Tech divisions of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will hold a panel discussion titled “Convergence: Myth or Reality?” on Wed., March 28, at Federation’s 6505 Wilshire Blvd. headquarters. The panel will include representatives of various dot-com businesses and will be moderated by Ted Cohen, vice president of New Media for EMI Recorded Music. For more information, call Michelle Becker at (323) 761-8231 or register online at www.jewishla.org/events/convergence.html.

Off the Beaten Path

Recently, Girl Scouts of America Brownies Elizabeth Benjamin, 7, and Benina Stern, 6, detoured off the camping trail to pay a visit to The Jewish Journal’s offices. And the girls of Troop 414 didn’t arrive empty-handed. Their gift basket — which included yummy boxes of Aloha Chips, Lemon Drops and Apple Cinnamon cookies — was so generous, it took both Elizabeth and Benina to present it to our bowled-over General Manager Kimber Sax. Chaperoned by their respective mommies, Vivean Benjamin and Gail Stern, Elizabeth and Benina witnessed The Journal’s behind-the-scenes operation, asking perceptive questions about every facet of the newspaper-making process.

The Circuit asked the Brownies which of the Jewish holidays they enjoy the most.

“Purim, because you get to dress up,” Benina said.

We also asked the Westwood Charter first-graders a few questions about the Girl Scout life and learned that Elizabeth loves “getting new try-its [merit badges], because we try something new.”

For more information on Girl Scouts of America, contact the Angeles Girl Scout Council at (323) 933-4700.

Conference Call

Malcolm Katz, executive director of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, joined 150 members of the North American Association of Synagogue Executives at their annual conference. Katz chaired the Los Angeles Host Committee for the convention, which this year was based at the Radisson Valley Center Hotel in Sherman Oaks.

Festival of Lots …of Children!

Another Jewish holiday came and went. And as usual, it did not escape the notice of Aliza Narbone and the Eretz Cultural Center Junior Congregation.

Narbone, director and creator of the Junior Congregation (featuring children ages 7 to 13), led her group in a Purim celebration of the spirit of “V’shinantam L’vanecha” that featured learning prayers and preparing mishloach manot. Students, including Malka Zedgh, 9, performed songs such as “Hava Nagila.”

“Most of these children don’t attend Hebrew schools,” Narbone told the Circuit. “That is why it is important to encourage them to attend Shabbat services. They are our future leaders in our Jewish communities.”

For more information on the Eretz Cultural Center Junior Congregation, call (818) 342-9303

Enter Liberman

Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) has appointed Adi Liberman of Encino to the Holocaust Era Insurance Claims Oversight Committee. Liberman is past president of Second Generation of Los Angeles and serves on the Valley Jewish Community Relations Committee.

Banking on the Future


Tourism to Israel is slumping, but the country’s national airline is betting $400 million on a liftoff.

That’s the amount El Al spent on three new Boeing 777 aircraft, which were turned over to El Al on Jan. 31.

The planes, known as "Triple 7" but formally designated as the Boeing 777-200ER, are named Galilee, Negev and Sharon — the latter not in honor of Israel’s new prime minister, but for Israel’s coastal plain between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

They will begin service in March on nonstop flights from Tel Aviv to New York or Chicago, as well as to London, India and the Far East.

El Al ordered the planes, whose seating arrangements and other interior features are customized to each airline’s preferences, in late 1999.

At the time, El Al was closing out its best year ever, during which it ferried 3.1 million passengers to and from Israel. Projections were that El Al would raise that record figure by 15 percent during the 2000 millennium year. Until September, those estimates were right on the nose.

Then Palestinian violence broke out in late September, the U.S. State Department issued a warning against travel to Israel and expected tourism for the lucrative Christmas season plummeted 30 percent.

Tourism is now running 15 percent to 20 percent below 1999 levels.

Some of the slack has been taken up by U.S. Jewish solidarity missions and sharply higher passenger and cargo loads in flights to India, Hong Kong and Korea.

Conditions may well remain unstable for much of this year, said El Al’s new president, David Hermesh, but he looks forward to a new record of 4 million passengers in 2002.

"It’s been our experience in Israel that after each crisis there is a rebound, a boom in tourism," Hermesh said.

The new Triple 7 is smaller than the workhorse 747-400, carrying 300 passengers to the older plane’s 416 seats. Yet the new planes have more sophisticated technology, greater fuel efficiency and overall noise reduction, and El Al promises greater passenger comfort and better service.

Behind the scenes in Israel, meanwhile, long-running negotiations continue on whether to privatize the government-owned airline, with no resolution expected until 2002.

If privatized, El Al is likely to try to operate flights in and out of Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport during Shabbat, as foreign airlines do.

Before 1982, El Al operated worldwide flights on Saturday. The exceptions were the flights to and from New York, which carried a large number of religiously observant passengers.

Tom Tugend recently participated in a three-day seminar sponsored by El Al, Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

Violence Harms Israeli Economy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crypto – Jews Unmasked


This past October I found myself, along with four other North American Jewish journalists, flying business class — a wonderful way to fly — to Croatia on Lufthansa Airlines. The Croatian Tourist Office in conjunction with Lufthansa had generously put together a 12 day guest package, hoping we would like what we saw (after all, parts of Croatia, especially the Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic Sea, are quite beautiful). The thought was we would combine descriptions of the famous tourist sights with a report to our readers on the life and times of Jewish Croatia.

There was a certain disarming lunacy about the whole enterprise. Certainly a journalist can discover interesting and important stories to recount about Croatia — its politics, its recent history, and its estrangement from the West; reportage about Croatia’s dying, autocratic President Franja Tudjman and the likelihood of his party’s (the HDZ or Croatian Democratic Union) success in the elections scheduled for Jan. 3; accounts of the high levels of unemployment (nearly 20 percent) along with the moribund tourist trade; or the way in which modern life continues to persist (with energy) in this strange isolated land: from urban Central European Zagreb, the capitol city, all the way to the Dalmatian Coast on the beautiful Adriatic, with its Italian and Mediterranean ambiance looming out of the sea in such lovely port cities as Split and Dubrovnik.

Despite the generosity of the Croatian Tourist Bureau towards me and the other journalists, these are not Jewish stories and have little to do with what might be called Jewish Croatia. Ironically, the outcome in all these political matters — Tudjman’s successor, unemployment, tourism, relations with the U.S. and Western Europe — will determine the fate of Croatia’s 2,500 Jews just as it will the rest of the nation’s near 5 million population.

Jewish Croatia to all intents and purposes is a statistical blip. More than half the Jews, 1,500, live in Zagreb which has a population of about one million. Split, a jewel of a city (population about 200,000) on the Dalmatian Coast, contains about 150 Jews, but not all are participants in the community. In Dubrovnik, with its marvelous old walled city, there are 44 Jews. Bruno Horowitz the leader of the community, explains that services are held infrequently; only “when there are enough tourists to have a minyan.” Carefully he traces through the list of each Jewish family in Dubrovnik: he’s a dentist; she’s a teacher; he’s a photographer; and on through all 44.

Fitting Together


At the conclusion of the weekend, participantstook their puzzle piece name tags and together assembled a poster.Photos by Nancy Steiner

 

For Jewish young adults in Los Angeles, connectingwith Judaism can be a puzzling experience. So it seemed appropriatethat the 145 participants of ACCESS’s annual Shabbaton weekend atCamp Ramah received name tags in the form of puzzle pieces.

ACCESS is the young-adult program of the JewishFederation of Greater Los Angeles, and the March 13-15 Shabbatonweekend retreat drew a record number of participants, who were eagerto make connections, both social and spiritual.

An ACCESS member for about four years, Iparticularly enjoy this annual opportunity to gain new insights aboutJudaism and spend a leisurely weekend with good friends. Many otherparticipants were longtime ACCESS members who, like me, wereShabbaton veterans. There were also several newcomers to the group,and, for some, this was their first taste of the Federation’sprogram.

Sayan Gomel, 28, recently moved to Los Angeles andcame “to get more involved with the community and my religion.”Describing himself as more “cultural” than “religious,” Gomel saw theShabbaton as a chance to meet “people you have more in commonwith.”

Although the majority of ACCESS members aresingle, there were at least nine couples on our weekend, many of whomhad met through the Federation. But while people were undoubtedlykeeping an eye out for their beshert, the focus was more onfriendship and community.

This was the third Shabbaton for Jodee Mora, whodescribes herself as on the more “seasoned” end of ACCESS’s 25-to-40age continuum. “It’s like having a big sleep-over party with all yourfriends,” says Mora, who came for “the chance to be with greatfriends in a beautiful, tranquil environment, learn more aboutreligion and…unwind from regular responsibilities.”

The theme of the program was “Why Be Jewish?” andif we learned anything during the weekend, it was that the answer isas unique and individual as each participant.

Our program began with song-filled Friday-nightservices, followed by a traditional Shabbat dinner. Then we gatheredto hear keynote speaker Carol Levy, executive director of theAmerican Jewish Congress. Levy’s boisterous address alternatedbetween serious and comic as she exhorted her listeners to translatethe spirit we demonstrated on the weekend into community action. Sheasked participants to break into small discussion groups and sharetheir positive Jewish experiences. During a second presentation onSaturday, Levy described Judaism as “endless struggle, endless joyand endless oy,” and advised us that being a mensch is “a lifetimeendeavor.”

At Saturday-morning services, everyone got achance to have an aliyah, based upon which theme from the Torahportion most resonated with them. Services were followed by workshops(from which we chose two) on spirituality, tzedakah, Jewish holidays,the movements within Judaism, and crafts. Renee Firestone, aHolocaust survivor, and John Crites, a Jew-by-choice, also offeredworkshops. I opted for the spirituality session, where Rabbi GordonBernat-Kunin taught us about Buber’s “I-it” and “I-you” definitionsof relationships. Later, my inner child played at the arts and craftsworkshop, where we created etched-glass kiddush cups.

After Havdalah, the mood turned from serious tosilly as we broke into groups and were assigned to incorporate aJewish life-cycle event and a random object into a skit or song. Mygroup put together a jingle combining marriage with a remote control,while the group that got shiva and a toilet seat faced a tougher testand rose (actually, sunk) to the challenge.

Sunday afternoon arrived more quickly than wewould have liked. But as Shabbaton Co-Chair Craig Miller observed,the program had provided a new, “positive Jewish experience” thatparticipants could add to those they had shared at the beginning ofthe weekend.

At theconclusion of the program, participants took their puzzle piece nametags and together assembled a “1998 ACCESS Shabbaton” poster. Forthat moment, all the pieces fell into place. And with luck, each ofus gained something from our weekend experience that would make usfeel just a little more connected when we returned home.

For more information about the Federation’s ACCESSprogram, call (213) 761-8130.

Rebuilding a Family’s Past

In her latest memoir, Helen Epsteinrecounts the stories of grandparents she never knew

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Until she entered a concentration camp, FrancesEpstein hardly knew that she was a Jew. The same cannot be said ofher daughter, Helen Epstein, who thinks of herself as being “in aconstant state of teshuvah [return]” to Judaism.

Epstein was in Los Angeles earlier this month totalk about her recently published book, “Where She Came From: ADaughter’s Search for Her Mother’s History,” an absorbing memoir thatrebuilds her family’s destroyed and nearly forgotten past.

Epstein, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., with her husbandand two preteen sons, believes that she is the first in her familysince her great-grandmother, Therese Sachsel, who can walk to shulfrom her home. Though she calls herself “semi-observant,” even thatis a far cry from the life her mother led as an assimilated Jew inPrague during the 1920s and 1930s. Epstein had always hoped to writea story about her mother and her mother’s mother, Pepi, a skilledseamstress who was killed during the Holocaust. Epstein’s 1979 book,”Children of the Holocaust,” had made her a kind of icon among thesons and daughters of survivors. But, she said during an interview,”no one was dying to have a book about my grandmother.”

The book had taken a back seat to other projectsuntil Frances died suddenly from a brain aneurysm in 1989; she was69. For Epstein, then 42, the eldest of Frances’ three children andher only daughter, the loss was made more unbearable by her mother’srequest that no “Kaddish” be said, no rabbi be in attendance, and herremains be cremated. Epstein and her brothers didn’t even sitshiva.

“It placed a great burden on us,” she said duringa discussion with members and guests of Second Generation of LosAngeles. “We had no way of mourning.”

It was then that Epstein decided not to wait foran assignment — which might never come — and to write the book shehad dreamed of writing for many years. It was a project that tookabout eight years and spanned thousands of miles, as Epstein pursuedher grandmother’s story, from the archives of the research library atnearby Harvard University to the State Central Archive in Prague. Hersearch was bolstered by her fluency in Czech, which she learned as achild.

Epstein believes that her book is part of agrowing interest in genealogy among Jewish baby boomers. “We’re atthe age where we want to tell our children about our parents, and ourparents are dying.” As she has traveled around the country, promotingher book, Epstein said, she has come across
many Jews in their 30s,40s and 50s who are using the Internet to search for long-lostrelatives scattered throughout the world. “What’s so exciting aboutthe Internet is that when you get on it in Los Angeles, you arelikely to start conversations with someone in Poland…. It hasreally revolutionized the whole field of rebuilding families andreconnecting.”

As for her own search, Epstein did it theold-fashioned way. “I wouldn’t have had a book if I’d done it theelectronic way,” she said. “What my book depends on is stories.”These were dramatic stories that often came directly from her mother:the great-grandmother who committed suicide at 44, leaving behindthree young children; the grandmother, Pepi, raised as an orphan, whobecame a dressmaker in Prague at age 15. “These are things I couldnot have gotten off the Internet,” Epstein said.

While writing “Children of the Holocaust” was aliberating experience because she discovered a sense of kinship withother children of survivors, writing “Where She Came From” was purepleasure, Epstein said. “I never had a sense of family. Everyone wasdead when I was born. I really feel, in this book, I createdgrandparents for myself. That was an extremely rewardingexperience.”

Helen Epstein and her parents, Frances andKurt, top. Photos from “Where She CameFrom: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother’s History.”


UCLA Hillel’s New Home

Launched quietly by million-dollar donations fromthree of the most recognizable names in Jewish life, the campaign toerect and furnish a new home for UCLA’s Hillel Center is about to gopublic.

The Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Lifewill rise on the site of the YWCA building, directly across from theUCLA Faculty Center on Hilgard Avenue.

The $8.5 million drive to build and endow the newHillel Center began some 18 months ago with unpublicized gifts of $1million each from former MCA/Universal Chairman Lew Wasserman, StevenSpielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, and Edgar M. Bronfman,president of the World Jewish Congress and international chairman ofHillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Add another $500,000 from entertainment executiveHaim Saban and a total of $1.5 million in smaller gifts, and thecampaign is more than half way home, said Janice Kamenir-Resnik, whoheads the campaign.

Bronfman was recently in Los Angeles to press theflesh and exhort large-scale would-be donors. He joined one smalldinner, at which attendance was limited to potential million-dollargivers.

The timetable for the new 18,000-square-footbuilding, replacing the present 45-year old, unattractive andover-crowded facility, calls for ground-breaking in eight months anda construction period of 18 months.

The present YWCA building, which is 75 years oldand cannot meet seismic and safety standards, will be torn down, saidKamenir-Resnik, whose current involvement started when she met herfuture husband at a UCLA Hillel function.

Formal announcement of the Rabin Center plans isdue on May 14 at a tribute dinner marking Chaim Seidler-Feller’s 25years as a Hillel rabbi. Public fund raising is to kick into highgear in September. — TomTugend, Contributing Editor

 

Left to right, Rabbi Richard Levy, EdgarBronfman, Herb Glaser and Dean Ambrose discuss the new UCLA HillelCenter home.

 

Community Briefs

Exchanging Gifts, Goodwill

Aviva Lebovitz (l) and Fredi Rembaum (r) with PressmanAcademy students holding Purim packets from Israelistudents

The celebration of Purim took on a newinternational dimension for the children of Beth Am PressmanAcademy.

Pressman Academy (grades K through 8) is one offour Los Angeles day schools (Emek Hebrew Academy, Abraham JoshuaHeschel Community Day School and Milken Community High School are theothers) that have been twinned with schools in Israel through the newLos Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership. Since fall, the Pressman kids havebeen writing to pen pals at Magen School in suburban Tel Aviv. Aspart of the ongoing relationship in which educators from the twoschools will exchange faculty members and curriculum ideas, adelegation from Magen was due to come to Los Angeles in lateFebruary. Fear of a second Gulf War scuttled the trip, but thePressman student body, under the leadership of Principal AvivaLebovitz, found a tangible way to send Purim greetings to theircounterparts at Magen.

The 280 Pressman students made individualmishloah manotbaskets, enclosed personal postcards, then added candy and othergoodies. The load, which filled two huge suitcases, was schlepped toIsrael by Beth Am Rabbi Joel Rembaum and his wife, Fredi, who happensto be the Jewish Federation’s director of Israel and overseasrelationships and a prime mover in the twin-school program. TheRembaums, in Israel to welcome a new grandson, met with parents fromthe Magen School and were given another huge suitcase of mishloahmanot packets to take back to the Pressman kids.

At a school assembly, the packets were distributedto enthusiastic children, who greeted the unexpected gifts with achorus of “Toda Rabah” [thank you very much].

Future plans for the two schools include a jointbilingual newsletter to be published over the Internet. SaysLebovitz, “One of our goals is to create a sense of community betweenus and them — a feeling that we are connected.” — Beverly Gray, Contributing Writer

UJ Conference on Israel

Beginning on Sunday, March 29, the University ofJudaism will hold the symposium “Exile/Diaspora/Homeland: In theFiftieth Year of the State of Israel.” For the nominal charge of $60,the public is invited to attend the various panels, dinners andfestivities that make up the conference, which is being held underauspices of the Western Jewish Studies Association and runs throughTuesday, March 31.

For conference information, call Dr. Aryeh Cohen,chair of the UJ Jewish studies department, or Dr. Miriyam Glazer,chair of the literature department: (310) 476-9777, ext. 262 or ext.206. — B.G.

As an added attraction, Monday evening, March30, will be devoted to a performance of music, voice and dance,billed as “The Sephardic Soul of Flamenco.” The Del Monte familyincorporates into its repertoire centuries-old Gypsy traditions ofCentral and Eastern Europe as well as the musical legacy of theMediterranean Jewish peoples. This performance is free to those whohave registered for the conference; all others can purchase separatetickets for $15.

Music of Youth

A unique concert, featuring 12 talented studentmusicians from BJE-affiliated schools and youth programs, will beheld on Wednesday night, March 25, at the Westside Jewish CommunityCenter. The musicians, who will perform solo pieces by Bach,Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart and Chopin, were chosen through a citywidecompetiti
on.

It’s all part of the Liana Cohen Music Festival,established two years ago by the Cohen family to perpetuate thememory of their daughter. An accomplished pianist, she was killed bya drunken driver. Admission is free. Further information is availablefrom the BJE’s Dr. David Ackerman at (213) 761-8606. — B.G.

L.A. Holocaust Museum Moves

A page from 1943 autographalbum of Betty Koboshka Gerard. The album is part of the HolocaustMuseum’s personal memorabilia collection.

The Martyrs Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust,long tucked away in obscurity inside the walls of the JewishFederation Building, is changing its name and moving to a new, moreaccessible location. Its most frequent moniker, the Los AngelesMuseum of the Holocaust, will now be its official name, with MartyrsMemorial as a secondary title.

This spring, it will relocate to 6006 WilshireBlvd. on Museum Row, between the Petersen Automotive Museum and theMuseum of Miniatures, and across the street from the Los AngelesCounty Museum of Art. Sharing space at the new site will be theJewish Community Library and the Jewish Historical Society. All threeinstitutions were displaced last fall when the Federation moved tonew temporary quarters nearby.

Sometimes confused with the better-known Museum ofTolerance, the museum is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.A department of the Federation, the institution was founded primarilyby survivors as both a museum and memorial. Its mission has been bothto educate the public about the Holocaust and commemorate those whoperished. “We deal with one subject: what happened between 1933 and1945 in Europe and North Africa,” said Marsha Reines Josephy, themuseum’s acting director and curator.

Using a stark, photodocumentary approach, themuseum offers a glimpse into the lives of European and North AfricanJews prior to and during World War II through photographs, documents,personal memorabilia and rare artifacts. Much of the material hasbeen donated by Los Angeles-area Jews, and families come frequentlyto view their own personal history, Josephy said.

In addition to its collection, the museum hasvideo stations that offer survivor accounts and historical footage.It also provides speakers to schools; serves as a resource forresearchers, teachers, and film and video documentarians; and offerspublic events.

Even after the Federation moves from its temporaryheadquarters at 5700 Wilshire Blvd., the hope is that the museum willremain where it is.

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust willreopen in its new location later this spring. It is seekingsuggestions on ways to celebrate its 20th anniversary. To convey yourideas or for more information on current programs, call MuseumCoordinator Masha Loen at (213) 761-8170.— Ruth Stroud,Staff Writer

Etta Israel Center Online

The Etta Israel Center has been awarded a $150,000grant by the Covenant Foundation to create a new Internet site topromote Jewish education for the disabled and to help Jewish studentsand their families find their way through the special-educationmaze.

The Internet site will feature professionallymonitored articles, bulletin boards, chat groups, resources andsearchable databases. Disabled students and their support groups willbe able to share knowledge, experience, frustrations and successes;school administrators and special-education teachers will be able tointeract and improve the delivery of special education.

World-renowned scientist Dr. Michael Samet willlend his technical skills to creating and developing the new site.Dr. Samet created the Multimedia Computer Learning Center at theMuseum of Tolerance and designed an automobile Internet site that wonthe 1997 Webby for the World’s Best Money Site.

For more information, call (310) 285-0909. — Staff Report

Talking Up Tourism

Israeli tourism officialsfocused on selling Israel as a vital travel destination to anaudience of travel industry professionals.

In commemoration of Israel’s 50th anniversary, theIsrael Government Tourist Office threw a gala banquet at the BeverlyHilton during the height of Purim last week. The combination tradeshow/dinner/entertainment event, targeted at a travel-industryaudience, focused on selling Israel as a vital traveldestination.

Echoing the festive Purim holiday, the jubileeshow offered a balance of food and fun, kicking off with a trade-showreception that included representatives from airlines (El Al, TowerAir), travel agencies (World Express, Hadar Travel & Tours), andtour package groups (Carmel, Prestige).

Among the guests ushered into the banquet room forthe official program were Shimon Stein, legal adviser to PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Ari Rappaport, head of Israel’s50th-anniversary committee. With the aid of pie charts and tourismtrailers, host Oren Drori, director of the Israeli Government TouristOffice, gave a brief lecture on selling Israel’s image and handlingquestions of security.

“There are two kinds of Israel,” Drori said,half-joking. “Israel, my country, and the CNN Israel.” He furtheremphasized PR concerns by turning the tables on stereotypes, pointingout Israel’s perception of Los Angeles as a city under siege bygangs, and suggesting that the most dangerous part of an Angeleno’strip to Israel is the ride from home to LAX.

Entertainment accompanied the chicken and saladbuffet in the form of comedian Eitan Lev, who riffed on Israelitourists, mimicking Hebrew as spoken by the French, Germans and otherforeigners. Afterward, the sizable crowd was treated to an energeticperformance of Israeli folk dancing. –Michael Aushenker, Community Editor