Wine, Women, Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit


Valley Secession: Better for Jews?

For the Jewish community, like the rest of Los Angeles, the issue of Valley secession boils down to one key question: Will we be better off after secession than we are now?

Some officials predict that secession would actually make very little difference to the Jewish community. In terms of services, secession of the Valley and Hollywood would have only a minimal effect, according to Jewish Federation representatives. Miriam Prum Hess, vice president of planning and allocations for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said that of all the agencies only Jewish Family Service would be significantly impacted.

The bulk of the Federation’s funding for 2001 — a total of $39.6 million — came from state and federal sources; only $12 million was derived from local sources, primarily from Los Angeles County. Of city and county funds combined, Jewish Family Service received the largest portion, about $1.7 million.

Jewish Family Service representatives declined to comment on the possible ramifications for the agency, but Jack Mayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, said even if secession were to pass, The Federation and its agencies would find a way to continue their funding.

"We’re a service delivery organization, so we would work with whatever government structures are appropriate," Mayer said. "The organization of the Jewish community is not dependent on the organization of the City of Los Angeles.

"We work with elected officials throughout the area and would continue to have strong and positive relationships with elected officials, no matter how they are organized. Even in the Valley Alliance we work with a number of different cities: Calabasas, Burbank, all the way to Thousand Oaks. We’re not limited in that sense," he said.

Most community leaders agree that the Valley secession’s primary impact on the Jewish community would be more psychological and political than financial. Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, has spent the past year participating in a special task force of the Council of Religious Leaders (CRL) exploring the moral issues surrounding secession. He said it doesn’t take a genius to see that secession will not be helpful to the Jewish community.

"I happen to live in the Valley and work in the city and get to travel all around, and this is a very big issue," Diamond said. "It is already hard for people in the Conejo and San Fernando valleys to feel a part of the greater Jewish community. This is part of life in Los Angeles, that we do not seem as unified as the Jewish communities of Chicago or Detroit or Baltimore.

"It troubles me because there’s an intrinsic bond between Jews all over the world and if a Jew living in the San Fernando Valley doesn’t feel a connection to a Jew living in Hancock Park, let alone Argentina, we’ve got real problems," he said.

Diamond said there are some positive effects of raising the issue of secession.

"In our seminars, studies and investigation over the past year [the task force has] learned there are a lot of disenfranchised people out there and to bring that to the fore is very important," he said. "First, people feel they do not have the access to decision making in their community. Second, some people have the erroneous belief that this is a bunch of rich, white people wanting to break away from the poor city, and that is not true. One of our most enlightening days was a tour we took of Pacoima and parts of Van Nuys, where we saw there were real areas of need in the Valley."

Rabbi Alan Henkin, director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who along with Diamond is serving on the CRL task force, said another factor to consider in examining secession is its effects on relationships between Jews and other minorities on both sides of the hill.

"Politically, secession would dilute the power of the Jewish community both in their representation in the city and in the Valley. It would really impel the Jewish community to form broader coalitions with a variety of groups," Henkin said.

The need to establish such coalitions could make for an interesting shift in the political landscape, said Raphael Sonenshein, a political science professor at California State University Fullerton who specializes in racial and ethnic politics.

"The Jewish community is like the Latino community geographically, in that they both straddle the north-south divide with the Latinos on the Eastside and in the East Valley and the Jews on the Westside and in the southwest Valley," Sonenshein explained. "Not everyone is divided that way; the African American community, for example, is not. But Latinos and Jews are likely to be the pivotal voters in how the decision is made."

Sonenshein said what may also be at stake is the broader role Jews have played in government in Los Angeles.

"Even during the Riordan period, the Jewish community remained very active at City Hall and still is today," he said. "But if we actually had secession carry through, it would have a whole different dynamic."

Longtime Los Angeles City Council Member Ruth Galanter has had to fend off two secession attempts in her district, one in Venice and one in Westchester. She said that if people in the Jewish community are committed to improving their relationships with non-Jews, they are better off working as a cohesive whole.

"To the extent that anti-Semitism exists, it doesn’t make sense to be separate," noted Galanter. "It’s better to be part of one large community and reach across the greater Los Angeles community to build relationships."

Galanter also said that if the Jewish community wants a more representative government, secession is not necessarily the way to go.

"There is a rhetorical bandwagon out there crying that the government [in the City of Los Angeles] is not responsive, but that is not necessarily true. Council members spend all day long responding to things in their district," she said. "The danger in the kind of rhetoric I’m hearing is that it just obscures the issue of learning to be close to [the representatives] who can fix things in your neighborhood."

But former Assemblyman Richard Katz, a secession supporter, disagrees.

"If we have more districts representing fewer people, those areas that are more Jewish might have better representation because we have always had a disproportionate number of Jewish people on the City Council," he said.

Overall, it is difficult to predict the effect of secession on the Jewish community of Los Angeles. In many ways, the current situation in Los Angeles reflects the split within our community itself, between those in the city and those in the Valley areas. As embodied in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Valley Alliance, that "split" has been successful only to the extent both sides recognize that they are on the same team.

"I think it strengthens the community to have people from different parts of the community with different perspectives," said Mayer. "The Federation weaves us together."

Were the city of Los Angeles to discover a similar common denominator, perhaps secession would be unnecessary. But the polls paint a different picture: the latest numbers from a Los Angeles Times survey this month show 55 percent of Valley residents in favor of secession and other areas of the city almost evenly split on secession. Clearly, many Valley residents do feel that they would be better off as an independent city.

In the next article in this series, The Journal will explore whether the Jewish community’s feelings reflect those of Los Angeles overall.

Valley High

Weaving together the threads of music, youth activities and social action, the eighth annual Valley Jewish Festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 6. This year’s festival, which organizers call the largest event of its kind on the West Coast, finds a new home on the campus of Cal State Northridge.

To carry out this year’s theme, “The Tapestry of Jewish Life,” festival coordinator Lori Klein asked the nearly 100 participating synagogues and organizations to each come up with interactive booths that reflect what Judaism and Jewish life means to them.

“We wanted them to show participants how they fit into and contribute to the larger tapestry of Jewish life in Los Angeles,” Klein said.

Among the more creative booths: Pierce and Valley College Hillel will do a computerized search on the origins of visitors’ first names; the Jewish asthma center will do lung testing (a measure sure to produce interesting results in the smoggy North Valley); and the folks from Making Marriage Work plan to put up a chuppah display.

The move from Pierce College to the larger CSUN campus has enabled festival organizers to make several longed-for changes this year. The popular Children’s Park has been expanded to include free arts and crafts booths designed around the “Tapestry of Jewish Life” theme. Kids will be able to make kiddush cups, candlesticks for Shabbat, flower pots and picture frames as mementos of the day. Hungry festival-goers can choose from a dozen different booths that feature kosher and glatt kosher cuisine.

The newest addition to the festival is the “Teen Scene” area for middle- and high-school students. Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Valley Alliance, youth-group members from United Synagogue Youth, the National Federation of Temple Youth, B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and local Jewish Community Centers have designed an area to appeal to teens; Israeli dancing, a Velcro wall, a spinning gyro and hands-on organizational booths are among the attractions. Save Ferris, one of the hottest bands in the local music scene today, will perform.

“It’s a great chance to catch up with people you haven’t seen in awhile and meet new people,” said Jeff Kaplan, director of teen services for the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.

A partnership of The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, local synagogues, community organizations and corporate sponsors, the biennial celebration of Valley Jewish life began in 1986 as the Exodus Festival, dedicated to raising awareness and funds on behalf of Soviet Jewry. The festival continues its theme of social action this year with the emphasis on the war in Kosovo. A special Valley Jewish Festival “passport” (which looks like a backstage concert pass) will be available for $5, with proceeds going toward Kosovo refugee relief efforts. At a 2 p.m. ceremony, which will feature the Children of the World Choir, awards will be given to several organizations, including the Joint Distribution Committee, Valley Interfaith Council Crop Walk, American Jewish World Services, B’nai B’rith, Women’s American ORT and the American Jewish Committee, by the Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Valley Alliance.

In addition, representatives from city and state government will present the Vlashi family, recently rescued from Kosovo with the help of Jewish organizations, with certificates officially welcoming them to the Los Angeles area.

“We’re honored to be recognizing the humanitarian efforts of four local synagogues and the host families who are providing housing and other support for the Kosovo refugees,” said Scott Svonkin, JCRC chair. “We’re happy to be able to bring everyone together — elected officials, rescue organizations — to celebrate this deed of loving kindness.”

The Valley

Camp Chesed in Woodland Hills provides a unique experience for disabled kids

A Special Summer

By Wendy J. Madnick, Valley Editor

Counselor Joshua Hay, left, and camper Cory Lefkowski enjoy the sights at Disneyland.

Six-year-old Cory Lefkowski has multiple health problems, including epilepsy and cerebral palsy; he is also learning disabled and attends special education classes during the year. Under ordinary circumstances, his summer would be a long and isolated one. But thanks to the willpower of some extraordinary people, Cory has spent the first week of the last three summers at a camp geared to improving the lives of Jewish children with disabilities.

The Hay family — father Jaque, mother Judy, daughter Jalena and sons Joshua and Jonathan — created Camp Chesed-Camp Dora Hauser in 1995 to give developmentally and physically disabled children the opportunity to have the same kind of summer fun as other Jewish kids. For the past two summers, the West Valley Jewish Community Center has hosted the one-week event, which this year ran June 22- 26 for the 29 campers and their 54 counselors (two or three assigned to each camper). The camp is held free of charge, an amazing boon to parents often stretched to the limit financially, and this year included an overnight trip to Disneyland.

Cory’s mother, Marby Lefkowski, said her son looks forward to Camp Chesed all year long. The camp presented the first opportunity for Cory to participate in arts and crafts and go on field trips with other kids. Lefkowski underscored the importance of such social activities for the differently abled.

“These children often have low self-esteem because they do not play with other (non-challenged) children,” she said. “But here they are able to participate. It gives them a fuller life and makes them feel like they are a part of the world.”

Hay estimated that about 80 percent of the campers were returnees; for others, like Riley Weinstein, 6, and her twin sister, Taylor, this was their first camping experience. Riley was born with a congenital brain stem malformation known as a cavernous angioma, which caused three strokes and resulted in 15 surgeries, totaling more than $1 million. Riley is the only known survivor of this type of abnormality. She can speak clearly but cannot move most facial muscles to show expression; at camp she needed full-time assistance with walking, swimming and meals.

Riley’s mother, Teri Weinstein, echoed several other parents when she expressed how grateful she was for the opportunity to send her daughter to camp.

“We all exhaust so much money on caring for our kids, so the fact that this is a gift is a true mitzvah ” she said.

Weinstein was also happy she could keep her two daughters together for the summer.

“Normally when I talk to Riley about going to special needs classes she gets scared [to be away from her sister], but she’s not afraid here. It’s good for Taylor, too, because she can see she’s not the only child with a ‘special’ sibling.”

Parents of disabled children form a unique network within the Jewish community. Usually they meet through special needs classes, but occasionally they make contact through synagogue programs at places like Stephen S. Wise on Mulholland and Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village. The latter runs the Moses Program (named for the famous prophet, who was said to have had a speech problem) to encourage the full participation of adults and children with disabilities in synagogue life.

Most of the counselors at the camp attend the Hay kids’ alma mater, the Valley Torah Center in North Hollywood. None of the counselors think it is particularly remarkable to give up a week out of their summer to care for these mostly younger, sometimes challenging children. In fact, the counselors said they get far more from the experience than they give.

“You gain a certain perspective from working with these kids,” said Robert Cordas, 19. “They have so many problems, but their attitude is so happy, they just glow. It really makes you count your blessings.”

Hay contacted Arnie Sohinki, associate executive director of the West Valley JCC, last year about hosting the camp for summer 1997. The community center provides the camp with facilities, including the auditorium and access to the swimming pool.

“We juggle our schedule around the camp because it’s worth it, not only because of the people we’re helping but because it is important for our membership to be exposed to this part of our community,” Sohinki said.

Sohinki’s office overlooks the grounds where the children spent most of their day, and he commented on how lucky he felt to have such a view.

“It’s so wonderful to see the look on the counselors’ faces as they’re helping the children, and the look on the children’s faces from all the fun they’re having.”

For more information or to participate in next summer’s Camp Chesed-Camp Dora Hauser, call (818) 349-3932.

Painting for Peace

Students at Valley Beth Shalom Hebrew School commemorated Israel’s birthday with more than just a party. Sixty graduating students at VBS worked for eight months on a 15 x 40-foot outdoor mural to express their love for Israel and peace. The mural contains the portraits of five of Israel’s founding giants, Theodore Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Yehuda, Golda Meir, and David Ben-Gurion. The faces, surrounded by 50 doves, envelope a map of Israel with the words of the Hatikvah.

The mural, dedicated to the memory of Israelis who lost their loves to terrorist activity, instilled within the students a veneration for Israel’s heroes, said Yafa Saghian, VBS art director. Especially in a day and age where violence is unduly prevalent, VBS wanted students to creatively honor peaceful and heroic actions. Even in 20 years from now, students will be able to visit the wall and reconnect to the achievements of Israel and the achievements of their youth.– Orit Arfa

Cantor Fox Trots In

Bringing the taste of Jerusalem — with a touch of summer camp and a hint of Southern California — to West Hills, Joel Fox will begin as new pulpit cantor at Shomrei Torah Synagogue at the end of this month.

Fox, whose latest post was in La Jolla, was lead baritone at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem and served as a member of the Army Rabbinical Choir for the Israel Defense Forces, where he served.

He has studied music and chazzanut in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and was head of the music at Camp Ramah in Massachusetts. Cantor Fox will join Rabbi Eli Schochet, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson and Cantor Emeritus Avrum Schwartz at Shomrei Torah. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax