Shlomo Carlebach’s guitar and 31 other belongings to be auctioned


Judaica and other items belonging to the influential late rabbi-musician Shlomo Carlebach will be auctioned next month.

The Feb. 29 auction at J. Greenstein & Co.’s Auction House in Cedarhurst, New York, will also include Judaica owned by Harvard law professor and author Alan Dershowitz.

In all, the auction will feature 268 “rare and valuable objects,” including 32 from Carlebach’s estate and 28 from Dershowitz’s collection, the auction house announced in a Jan. 12 news release.

Among the objects belonging to Carlebach, who was known to many of his followers and fans as “Reb Shlomo,” are his guitar (opening price $12,000), tefillin ($11,000), piano ($13,000), High Holiday gartel (a belt used by some Hasidic Jews during prayer, this one’s opening price is $1,500) and personal appointment book from 1991-’92 ($1,900).

A charismatic Orthodox rabbi known for his Hasidic-influenced songwriting, his musical legacy and his outreach to Jews of all backgrounds, Carlebach, who was born in Berlin, died in 1994 at age 69.

“I am excited by this opportunity to bring new life into the Carlebach foundation and jump-start the legacy of my father,” Neshama Carlebach, daughter of the late rabbi and heir to his estate, said in a statement provided by the auction house.

“His voice of Torah, his music and his energy are so powerful and present in the world; he is still so present because his belief and hopes are still here. This auction, bringing his items back into the world, will create new moments for him and will take his legacy to a new level.”

J. Greenstein & Co. Auction House claims to be the only auction house in the United States that is “solely devoted to the sale of Jewish ritual objects.”

Krazy for Kosher Kurls


Davida Lampkin Tydings knows hair. She likes to boast, “Hair has been a passion of mine since I was born. I tell people I cut my own umbilical cord because that’s the art that God gave me.” 

A licensed hairdresser in New York and Los Angeles who worked in film and television for years, she channeled that love five years ago into a business venture: Kosher Kurls, a company based in Vernon that sells sulfate-free shampoo, everyday deep conditioner and leave-in conditioner (“schmear”). Lampkin Tydings said she got the idea after a friend started a hair-care-products company for biracial people. 

Despite the name and the Hebrew-style lettering on the packaging, Kosher Kurls is good for all hairstyles — curly and straight, according to Lampkin Tydings, 63. She said it can be used on payot and sheitels, too.

The bottles go a step further, claiming the products are for “Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Chassidic, Reconstructionist, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Black or White Jews,” and that it “leaves your hair looking and feeling like a Mensch!” 

Lampkin Tydings of Encino said she uses the product on her own locks. “This takes my waves, and the more you smush it, the more it curls,” she said.

But she stressed the product is not only for her people. 

“I say you don’t have to be Jewish to love Kosher Kurls. People who are Italian, Catholic, etc., say they use it,” said Lampkin Tydings, who tells a joke a minute, throwing in Yiddish words and Jewish puns whenever possible.

Some don’t even care how the products work on their hair; they buy it for the kitsch value. “Some people read the bottle, and they go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so funny. I have to have it, and I don’t even care if it works.’ I say to them that I hope it does work,” Lampkin Tydings said.

The hair products can be found in several grocery stores, including Ralphs, Cambridge Farms and Western Kosher, as well as the Karen Michelle boutique in Pico-Robertson. 

Lampkin Tydings said that, unlike hairspray or certain kinds of mousse, Kosher Kurls doesn’t give hair a crunchy feel. “What makes our product different from the others is it’s soft to the touch. It controls the frizz and defines the curls. When you touch your hair after using Kosher Kurls, it’s nice and soft. Mousse and hairspray make it stiff.”

“I like my latkes crispy, but I like my hair soft,” she added.

Maxine Berger, a hairdresser of 38 years who works at the Butterfly Loft in Encino, said she uses Kosher Kurls on her clients. “It’s good for styling and blowdrying, and it makes the curls curl nicer. It smoothes the hair, too,” she said.

Kosher Kurls is not Lampkin Tydings’ first entrepreneurial venture. She’s also the brain behind the Matzahman doll, a Passover toy that sings and dances. Thirty-five years ago, she established Davida Aprons, which sells the doll, along with other Judaism-centric housewares, apparel and religious items. There are kippot covered in bagels, hats that say, “Chai is good” and a baby bib with the phrase, “Future Mah Jongg Player.” Matzahmania, the collection of matzah-emblazoned merchandise that she sells, includes everything from yarmulkes to boxer shorts.

“People have labeled me the queen of Judaica,” Lampkin Tydings said. 

She ran Davida Aprons for many years with her mother, Pauline S. Lampkin, before she died, as well as her sister, Sybil Lampkin Rubin. Her mother is forever immortalized in the Matzahman — it plays a recording of her 93-year-old voice singing an original Craig Taubman song to the melody of “Dayenu.” 

Mitzvahland: For all your Jewish needs


On Sunday, my wife and I drove out to the Valley to buy a new sukkah. It was time. I’d bought our old sukkah from an Armenian Catholic who supplied booths to vendors in farmers’ markets. When his orders began to spike in September, he realized he could have a good little side business selling these things to Jews for their holiday of Sukkot. Only in America.

That was 15 years ago. This time, I couldn’t find a listing for his company, but I did reach the owner of a place called Mitzvahland on Ventura Boulevard in Encino.

He spoke in a thick Persian accent, and I felt like I had just reached the trading pit on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. “Sukkahs? Yes! Size? Yes, we got it, we got it! Tarp, yes, come!” And he hung up. If you want a sukkah, call a Judaica store the day after Yom Kippur. If you’re looking for customer service, call L.L. Bean.

So we drove to Encino, the Old Country. When I grew up there, there were Jews, but nothing like what’s happened since. In the late ’70s, the Iranian Jews arrived. Then waves of Israelis settled in. We third-generation Ashkenazi children moved to the city or farther west, to Conejo. What was once a monochromatic, acculturated, if not assimilated, Jewish community became more observant, diverse, multiethnic.

We pulled into a mini-mall near Balboa Boulevard. Across a large storefront shul hung a huge banner that advertised the time for prayer services. Mitzvahland took up two more storefronts. 

Inside, it was the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. An elderly Iranian-Jewish man was behind the cash register, helping a customer and speaking into his cell phone. The store phone rang. He picked it up and now had three conversations going — one in English, one in Hebrew, one in Farsi.

A dozen customers crowded the sukkah display, next to which lay a stack of shiny metal pipes and a huge mound of bamboo poles. Two young religious Jews helped them make sense of the sukkah kits for sale. A woman in a low-cut blouse — unlikely to be Orthodox — waited patiently. Behind her two barrel-chested Israelis wearing tight T-shirts advertising a nightclub held pounds of bright plastic fruit decorations, eager to pay. Another Israeli man walked in, checkbook in hand.

“What is the end of the line?” he asked, slightly mistranslating the Hebrew phrase. 

At the counter, a young father ordering his first sukkah presented a list of specs right out of “This Old House.” “Just get the kit,” the owner said.

My wife went to the back of the store, where a vast table was covered in neatly laid out etrogs and boys formed branches of myrtle, willow and palm into a sheaf of lulavs. A boy of perhaps 8, wearing an embroidered velvet kippah, was braiding dried palm fronds together to form the holster that holds the three branches together. “Does that come with the sukkah?” a woman, clearly a first-time sukkah buyer, asked. 

Nope — another $45, at least.

Growing up, most of my friends were Jewish, but we didn’t know from lulavs and etrogs or even Sukkot. Those were the “Mad Men” years. It was edgy and funny to be culturally Jewish, like Barbra or Woody, but to practice the rituals, to identify religiously — that was for the Orthodox.

Slowly, that has changed — partly because of the immigrants, unabashed in their affiliations, and partly because the needs that the mysteries of tradition and community fill could not long go unmet. The doomsayers keep telling us that a new generation is turned off to Judaism. But one sure sign they’re wrong is the number of non-Orthodox Jews who now put up sukkot, or celebrate the holiday with others. 

“Thirty years ago, people thought sukkot were only for synagogues,” Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, who grew up Conservative, told me. “It was a revelation you could build one in your backyard. Now, everyone and their mother is selling sukkot on Pico-Robertson.”

Sukkot turns an average autumn evening into summer camp. No one does it because they have to, like Yom Kippur, but because they want to. 

And so, even as the American Jewish community has grown wealthier, more powerful, more stable, we find ourselves pulled toward Sukkot, the symbol of a tentative existence.

 “We dwell in fragile booths because we are secure,” wrote Rabbi David Wolpe. “Only someone who feels safe chooses a rickety dwelling.”

In our solid, complicated lives, we yearn to reconnect to what is true, simple and sweet: shelter, food, community.

The night before we decided to buy a new sukkah, I had a dream that I was 15 years old and working at Miss Grace Lemon Cake, where I worked on and off through high school. 

In my dream, I was packing the warm sugary cakes into their tins — just as I used to do as a teenager — but every so often I’d stop to eat a slice. In the morning, the dream meant nothing to me.

It was only after we loaded our sukkah kit in our car and drove away that I realized: Miss Grace Lemon Cakes used to be located in the exact storefront where Mitzvahland is now. What was sweet, is still sweet, and will remain sweet — and we will keep returning to it, as the saying goes, generation after generation. There is no end of the line. 

See their commercial here:


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Spanish towns plan mock wedding at Sukkot Judaica festival


Two Spanish towns are preparing a Judaica festival featuring a mock wedding to celebrate their lost Jewish heritage.

The event, co-organized by non-Jews from San Juan and Rio Jerte in the province Extremadura in northwestern Spain, will also include a Judaica market and songs on Sept. 28-29, according festival coordinator Antonio Gil.

“This is a local event for the local population so that people who live here know that part of our history,” he told JTA. Gil added that the idea for the festival came last year from Maria Dolores Marin of San Juan and is not geared toward attracting tourists.

In planning the event, Gil and Marin consulted Avigail Cohen Komer, an Israeli Jew who owns a shop in the nearby village of Hervas, where a Jewish festival is held every year.

Northern Spain used to have a population of hundreds of thousands of Jews before the Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1492 and which drove countless Jews into exile. Others were forcefully converted to Christianity, though for decades many of the converted continued to practice Judaism in secret.

In recent years, municipalities across Portugal and Spain have been spending millions of dollars renovating Jewish heritage sites. Gil said the festival’s organizers will decorate some homes that used to belong to Jews.

The municipality of Zamora, some 130 miles north of the two towns, also announced its own Jewish project earlier this month, in which it will post plaques near its places of Jewish historical interest, according to the daily La Opinion-El Correo de Zamora.

Zamora’s head of economic development, trade and tourism, Francisco Javier Gonzalez, told El Correo that the city has “a historic debt” to its Sephardic ancestors, who were forced to leave the Zamora and Castile and Leon.

Sotheby’s: Steinhardt Collection ‘most valuable’ Judaica auction ever


An auction of the 500-piece Judaica collection owned by philanthropist Michael Steinhardt was the “most valuable auction of Judaica ever held,” Sotheby’s said.

The April 29 auction of nearly all of the Michael and Judy Steinhardt Judaica Collection brought in more than $8.5 million, Sotheby’s said in a statement, exceeding the pre-sale estimate by $6 million.

Some 92.6 percent of the 381 lots were sold, the New York auction house said.

In the morning, prior to the auction, Sotheby’s announced that the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York jointly bought a medieval religious text by Rabbi Moshe Maimonides. The auction house did not divulge the exact purchase price, but said it exceeded the $2.9 million sale in 1989 for an ancient Torah scroll.

The copy of the Mishneh Torah was completed in northern Italy in 1457 and is said to be one of the finest illustrated medieval Jewish texts in existence.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also purchased a large Italian silver Torah crown from the 18th century and a pair of silver Torah finials made in Georgia in the 19th century.

Among the institutions that purchased lots in the auction were The Jewish Museum in New York, The North Carolina Museum of Art and the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio. 

On Chanukah, Hamsas, for love and tzedakah


Meeting Rachelle Tratt, a yoga teacher with a warm smile and huge blue eyes, it’s hard to imagine that she was ever anything but the strong, spirited healer she is today. But Tratt, who grew up Modern Orthodox in the Catskill Mountains, has seen her fair share of tragedy.

At 9 years old, she discovered her mother’s body hanging in the basement of her family’s home in South Fallsburg, N.Y. “It shaped the course of my life,” said Tratt, 27, who wears not one but two hamsa pendants around her neck. “Everything stems from that one event.”

In the years following her mother’s suicide, Tratt’s family moved away from their religious community and set down roots in Westchester County. By the time Tratt graduated from high school in Rye, N.Y., she had started partying hard. A second tragic event — her brother’s fall from a banister that left him with spinal cord and brain injuries — compounded the pain of losing her mother, who would be 57 this year, and Tratt’s downward spiral continued. 

When she was 18, Tratt’s father, aunt and two siblings staged an intervention. She checked into rehab in Boca Raton, Fla., and it was there that she stopped drinking, connected with her higher power and eventually took her first yoga class. “Rehab wasn’t fun, but it put me on the spiritual path,” Tratt said in an interview in the airy Marina del Rey home that she shares with two other yoga instructors. “I knew I had a bigger purpose that I wasn’t living up to.”

One year later, while Tratt was teaching yoga in Boca Raton, one of her students — an Israeli — gifted her with a small turquoise hamsa. An ancient Middle Eastern symbol of protection, the hamsa is seen in both Judaism and Islam as a powerful tool to ward off the evil eye. Tratt wore the pendant on a gold chain, and soon she was fielding compliments and questions about the tiny blue hand on a daily basis. 

It wasn’t until Tratt traveled to Israel herself that she made the connection between the greater purpose she aspired to and the hamsa she never took off. Two summers ago, Tratt returned from her third trip to Israel — where her parents had met on a religious kibbutz in 1973 — and started The Neshama Project. 

Named for the Hebrew word for “soul,” as well as in honor of her mother Nicole’s first initial, The Neshama Project fuses a jewelry business with spiritual healing and charitable causes in both Israel and Los Angeles. The project represents the best aspects of her mother’s spirit, Tratt said. “It’s about Israel, community, kindness and tzedakah.” Blue and white opal necklaces, as well as opal earrings, are for sale through the neshamaproject.com store.

For each Hamsa necklace that she sells, Tratt donates 10 percent to a charity of the buyer’s choice. Thus far, she has partnered with Innovation Africa, a nonprofit organization that brings Israeli technology to African villages, and Friends of Ofanim, which supports educational efforts for at-risk youth living on Israel’s periphery. In Los Angeles, Tratt has partnered with Zeno Mountain Farm, a camp for adults with special needs, where she regularly volunteers.

Each time Tratt strings a hamsa on a gold chain — the actual pendants are manufactured in Israel — she types an inspiring message on a small square of paper included in the jewelry bag. The first message that Tratt ever typed read, “Hummus and falafels weave together our history of love.” It came on the heels of her first trip to Israel, where she visited the kibbutz on which her parents had met, and, she said, felt her mother with every step. Since then, she has expanded her repertoire to include more universal messages such as, “Make someone smile,” or “I believe in the power of love.”

In the year that she’s been in business, Tratt has sold more than 100 hamsas. But the most satisfying part of The Neshama Project, she said, has nothing to do with profit. “What fills me up the most are the interactions I’ve had with people who have been given a hamsa.” 

One of those people was Esther Kustanowitz, program coordinator for the NextGen Engagement Initiative at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

“These necklaces are more than just purchased products,” Kustanowitz said. “They’re conversation starters, relationship starters, opportunities to connect over something you may not have known you had in common.” 

Rob Eshman: The appraisal


Last April, just inside the entrance to the “Salute to Israel” Festival at Rancho Park, the National Council of Jewish Women set up a large tented area where it sold all sorts of secondhand items from its thrift stores: clothes, Judaica, kitchenware, art.

I was rushing by when a painting of a pipe caught my eye. I stopped and looked down at the canvas it was painted on, and noticed who was smoking the pipe: Albert Einstein.

Einstein looked haimish and mythic, impish and wise and — something else. 

“How much is it?” I said to the salesman.

“Eight hundred,” he said.

In the upper-left quadrant there was a gash, and a smaller, pencil-tip-sized hole beside it. “But it’s ripped,” I said. “Two hundred.” 

Impulse buy? In a minute I’d just bought a damaged oil painting by an artist I never heard of, from what was essentially a junk shop at a street fair. And it was huge — at least 3 feet by 2 1/2 feet.

A few hours later, I walked with Einstein, awkwardly, down Motor Avenue.

“I give you $500 for that.”

A man, speaking in a Persian accent, was now walking beside me.

“I think,” I paused. “I think I’m in love with it.”

The man said he was an antiques dealer, and he knew where I could get it repaired.

“There is a guy,” he said. “I know he’s on Melrose. His name, Meir, I think? You tell him I send you. Yosef.”

Yosef helped me fit the painting into my car. It took a half hour.

While we were wrestling with it, I noticed a small black laminate plaque on the bottom of the frame. It read:

Albert Einstein

Painted by

Paul Meltzner

Acquired by Mr. H.W. Kramer and Mr.

N.A. Mier in the Fifth War Loan Campaign and presented to the federation of Jewish welfare organizations and gratefully
accepted by the board on July 18, 1944.

The date explained Einstein’s expression.  It was painted at least a year before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before Einstein would have to come to terms with the darkest uses of his genius. In this portrait, he looked innocent.

The plaque read “Meltzner.” But in the lower-right corner of the canvas the artist himself had signed his name, in straight capital letters: “PAUL MELTSNER.”

Whoever chose to discard Albert may have done a quick Google check based on the misspelling. There is no Paul Meltzner. But Meltsner with an “S”?

Bingo. Thank you, Internet.

Paul Meltsner was a renowned American Social Realist artist.

He was born in New York in 1905 and studied at the National Academy of Design. He sold his first painting to the government of Palestine in 1925. During the Depression, he toured the United States for the Works Progress Administration, painting farmers and factory workers. His 1937 self-portrait, “Paul, Marcella and Van Gogh” — Van Gogh was a terrier — was purchased by the Luxembourg Museum in Paris. The Nazis confiscated it during the German occupation because Meltsner was a Jew. Meltsner painted a copy in 1940 that now hangs in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

When he learned that the Hermitage in Moscow had acquired the original, he demanded its return: Meltsner didn’t want the oppressors of Soviet Jews to enjoy his painting.

Meltsner’s Depression-era oils, woodcuts and lithographs depict workers with respect and dignity, and without pity. He interspersed these with sensual paintings of Martha Graham dancers and joyous paintings of New York street life.

In the ’40s, Meltsner turned to celebrities. His portrait of a fruit-bedecked Carmen Miranda became her iconic image. And he painted Einstein, twice.

In midlife, Meltsner left the city for Woodstock, N.Y., where he continued to paint in solitude, with no phone and no car.  Just before he died, in 1966, a story turned up about him in an art journal. It was titled, “America’s Happiest Artist.”

Today, Meltsner’s paintings hang in the White House — Franklin Roosevelt collected him — and in dozens of museums, including the Smithsonian, the Hermitage, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the National Portrait Gallery. And there was one jammed like a bad coin into the slot behind my back seat — what about that one?

More Internet searching. In 1943, Meltsner donated eight of his portraits to be auctioned as part of a war bond drive. The auction was held at the I. Magnin department store in Beverly Hills. According to an archive report:

“A single painting of Meltsner’s — a portrait of Albert Einstein — caused a million dollars’ worth of war bonds to be sold in 1943 in Hollywood.”

That explained the plaque below my painting. The two men who acquired the portrait by purchasing a million dollars in war bonds donated the artwork to the Jewish Welfare Fund, the organization that would eventually become the Jewish Federation.

It hung on the wall at the old Federation building, then was removed to a basement or closet, then turned over to the National Council of Jewish Women as, essentially, junk.

I got back on the Internet, hunting for a painting restorer named Meir on Melrose. There was none. But I did find an art restoration place on Santa Monica Boulevard, and the name was Merab. Meltsner/Meltzner, Meir/Merab — does anybody sweat the details? I called.

The accent was thick. “How you get this number?” a gruff voice demanded.

“Are you Meir?” I asked. “Yosef gave me your number.”

“Call back other number,” the voice said, and hung up.

There was another number listed. I dialed.

“Yosef. The Persian. Yes, yes, yes, I know him,” the man said.

I explained I had a painting with a hole, and —

“You come!” he said, cutting me off.

“When?”

“Now! Come now!”

I read out his address and asked him if it was the right one.

“How you get my address?!” he demanded.

“The Internet.” I was stammering now. “Everything is there.”

He hung up.

I pulled up in front of a storefront I had passed a million times and never noticed. It was low and dirty white. There was no address, no sign, no windows, and an unmarked white door, with no bell. I knocked. Einstein stared off at a boxing gym and a car leasing lot, puffing on his pipe. I knocked again.

The door flew open. A half-naked man with purple hands began waving at me.

“Come come come come COME!” he yelled.

I stood frozen. His torso was a tangle of gray hair and sweat. Giant goggles perched just over his eyes; his sparse gray hair shot up on his balding head, and his baggy pants were streaked in a thousand colors of paint. It was Einstein’s mad cousin.

“Paint dry paint dry paint dry!” he ordered, then spun around and raced away.

I followed him inside — and into one of the most remarkable places I’ve ever seen. A split second earlier, I had been on a drab L.A. street. Now Christopher Lloyd was showing me Marie Antoinette’s attic.

Every square inch of this dimly lit, cavernous space was filled with oils and sculptures and lamps and ceramics and watercolors and china. Art filled shelves and racks that reached to the ceiling. Paintings and pots and sculptures leaned up against one another on the floor. Some of it looked precious, some buried in dust, some gilded and resplendent.

I followed the man to the back, which was lit by an overhead lamp. He stood over a basin of thick purple paint and used a stiff brush to stir it furiously. Then he loaded the color on the brush and smeared it across a ceramic platter. 

“Stand there!” He pointed me to a corner. “Paint dry.”

The man leapt from his seat, ran back to the bowl of paint, swirled it, then went back to the dish.

I stood, holding my painting, watching this man’s intense, focused labor. 

“OK, dry.” He stepped back from the platter, excused himself and returned, wearing a shirt. 

He examined the painting, told me how he could fix the tear so it would be unnoticeable, tighten and clean the frame, and, most importantly, take 80 years of dust and smoke and crud off the picture.

“Everything brighter,” he assured me. “Same color, what came from his brush, like original.”

He could see I was nervous — I kept using the word “patina” in a way I’m sure no art expert ever would. The man took my hand and pulled me through his room of art. He showed me paintings in the process of restoration, before and after. He named a price and wouldn’t budge.

I did the math. The man looked to be near 70 years old. He had a small warehouse of pricey art entrusted to him. He didn’t advertise.

“OK,” I said.

“OK,” he said, and took the painting. “Two weeks. Goodbye.”

“That’s it?”He now had Einstein; I had nothing.

“Two weeks.”

I stood there, not wanting to insult him, but definitely wanting something to show when — my imagination was running wild — the authorities busted the longest-running art theft ring in L.A. history.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

I took out my iPhone to spell it. 

“K-h-a —” he started.

“K-h-a,” I repeated.

“K-h-a —” he said again.

“Yes,” I said, “K-h-a.”

“Khakha!” the man said, exasperated.

“Caca?” I said.

“Khakhanashvili. K-h-a-k-h-a —”

“Oh!” I said. “Georgian.”

“Yes!” he said. Merab Khakhanashvili shook my hand quickly, then closed and locked the door.

I returned two weeks later. He pulled Einstein out of a corner, and moved him to the light.

Whatever colors Meltsner dipped his brush into were now there to see. Einstein leaned across his modest desk, a wall of books and his beloved violin behind him. Light fell on one long-fingered hand, which rested on an open text. His brown sweater now glowed in shades of russet and gold. His white-and-gray hair was a crown. Merab had worked magic.

“I tell you,” Mr. Khakhanashvili smiled. “Much better.”

After I brought the painting home, I made a few calls to get it appraised. After all, even though history records that Meltsner’s Einstein was sold for $1 million in war bonds, no one until me had ever actually paid a penny for the painting itself.

I’d like to be able to tell you it’s worth millions, but the truth is, I have no idea. Appraisers e-mailed and called, but I never followed up.

“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts,” Einstein once said.

But Einstein led me to two such people: a driven, dedicated art restorer, laboring in obscurity behind an unmarked West Hollywood door; and Paul Meltsner, devoted to justice and to art, one of the most remarkable Jews I’d never heard of.

I look at Einstein and think of them, three exalted guests, permanent ushpizin in our home.

That, I’ve decided, is my appraisal.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Crafting a memorable Passover with unique ritual objects


To prepare for their first Passover seders, Zoe Scheffy, Lesley Frost and Joanna Brichetto drew on their creative instincts: Scheffy pulled out her knitting needles; Frost gathered scraps of felt, braided ribbon and tacky glue; and Brichetto rounded up household items, her kids’ plastic frogs and Beanie Babies.

The three women, of different backgrounds, were making unique Jewish crafts that transformed their holiday celebrations from ho-hum to memorable.

Their ideas and projects are now featured in books and on Jewish Internet sites encouraging others to find crafts that enhance their Jewish observance of Passover, which this year starts on the evening of April 6, and other holidays.

Crafting is in, says Diana Drew, an editor of many craft books, including two by style maven Martha Stewart, whether as a reaction to an overly wired, fast-paced world or the harsh economy.

Scheffy and Frost are among the 30 artists and craftspeople from the U.S. and Israel whose work is profiled in Drew’s most recent book, “Jewish Threads” (Jewish Lights), which she co-authored with her husband, Robert Grayson. Passover projects include Scheffy’s knit seder plate, a quilted Ten Plagues matzah cover designed by Shellie Black of Seattle, and an afikomen envelope made of fabric designed by Claire Sherman of Berkeley, Calif.

More than a set of how-to instructions, the book reveals the spiritual journeys that inspired the artists to create their Jewish ritual objects or communal projects.

Drew and Grayson found a tremendous range and diversity of craft projects across the country. Drew noted to JTA the ritual objects for the seder table and playful props that infuse the Passover celebration with more spiritual meaning and a personal imprint.

Embellishing ritual objects is nothing new, Grayson says, citing examples of centuries-old hand embroidered tallit and Torah scrolls, as well as communal-made wedding chuppahs.

Drew says that creating high-quality handmade Jewish objects reflects the concept of hiddur mitzvah, beautifying the commandments, and will evoke memories in years to come.

“That is what Jewish crafts bring to a person’s life and home,” she said.

In a conversation with JTA, Scheffy, a Boston-area mother of two with a doctorate in Scandanavian Sami folk art, said she was inspired to create her knit seder plate by her lifelong passion for fiber art. Rather than buy a conventional seder plate, Scheffy wanted to create one that combined tradition and innovation, a reflection of her own multicultural identity as an African-American and Jewish woman.

The hexagonal design of the seder plate, with six triangles, features a Star of David in the center. The Hebrew words for bitter herbs, egg, shank bone and other ceremonial foods are knit into the plate in a separate color.

While the idea of preparing her own seder was daunting at first, making the seder plate was a learning experience.

“I felt more prepared,” she said. The project also made an impression on her 9-year-old daughter, who took an active role in last year’s seder, Scheffy said.

Frost, a Britain native now living in New Jersey, told JTA that craft projects such as the Passover puppets became a way to express herself Jewishly and to learn about Jewish holidays along with her children. After years of attending her husband’s family’s traditional—and lackluster—seders, Frost, a Jew by choice and an educator by training, vowed to create a more accessible and livelier seder for her family.

At the time, she and her husband were raising their children in Houston. Inspired by the Exodus story retold in the Passover Hagaddah—and recalling how crafts were an important part of her own schooling in England—the mother of two created Afiko-Man, a hand puppet made of felt and fabric. In subsequent years Frost added Moses, Aaron and Pharoah puppets that often sat on the Passover table and were used for play or a re-enactment of the Exodus story.

Frost, who also made Purim puppets, created sets of the puppets for her children’s Hebrew school. Eventually she built a small crafts business: For many years she and her business partner sold their crafts at Jewish educator conferences and presented puppet shows for schools and synagogues. This year, more than two decades later, she is extending her tradition to another generation, making a new Afiko-Man puppet for her first grandchild.

Raising her young family in Nashville, Tenn., Brichetto was turned off by seders where children were unengaged and in another room. A seder at the home of a rabbi provided an aha moment. He included the kids, she recalls.

“I realized that seders don’t have to be adult centered and boring,” she said.

When Brichetto’s family decided to make its own seder, she and her children gathered up small plastic toys, Beanie Babies and household objects to make a crude version of a Ten Plagues bag. It was an educational way to connect, be engaged and have fun with the holiday.

Over the next few years the idea took off, with more elaborate objects to represent the plagues. The plague bags became such a hit that she and a friend went into mass production, starting a Judaica business with the plague bags and other craft projects.

While Brichetto has heard occasional criticism of invoking humor with the plagues, she says the bags provide a good conversation starter about demonstrating compassion for those harmed by the plagues.

In her role as a religious school teacher and in outreach with synagogue families, Brischetto discovered that hands-on crafts projects leveled the playing field for families from different backgrounds and religious experiences. There is value in making Jewish things with children, she said, from spending time together to educational moments to learn together about the holiday.

In 2008, noticing a void in resources for Jewish families, Brichetto started a website for Jewish parents, and Bible Belt Balabusta, a blog for Jewish do-it-yourself crafts projects. Now there is an explosion of interest for Jewish family engagement and home-based activities; she’s even heard from Christian preachers who use her site as a model for their religious outreach.

Words of wisdom from the craftswomen?

Don’t be intimidated, each advised.

“Jewish Threads” (Jewish Lights, $19.99), by Diana Drew with Robert Grayson. A pattern for Zoe Scheffy’s Passover table runners is available on http://www.seasideknittingpatterns.com. Joanna Brichetto writes about Jewish parenting at http://www.jewisheveryday.com.

VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. #3 — Jewish Los Angeles


Dining, shopping, living, praying—VideoJew Jay Firestone shows you how it’s done Los Angeles-style.

 

Meet the multitalented, endlessly energetic Zane Buzby


There are not enough hours in the day for Zane Buzby.

At 5:30 a.m., fully awake, she sits in her home office atop Mount Washington, with a view of downtown Los Angeles’ skyscrapers, checking the news and drinking from a large mug of coffee. Her husband, Conan Berkeley, and their 15-year-old Blue Russian cat, appropriately named Blue, are both still asleep.

Once she is confident that the world didn’t explode overnight, she immerses herself in the Survivor Mitzvah Project — reading translations of the survivors’ letters and composing replies. A stack of envelopes sits on a nearby desk, a High Holy Days mailing to survivors in Ukraine and Moldova that was halted when she ran out of funds. Now she’s aiming for Chanukah.

She also worries — about Fanya K., who is borderline blind and needs an eye operation, and Elke F. who is now living alone since her husband’s death. She finds $80, emptying the Survivor Mitzvah Project’s bank account, to send to Elke to reimburse her for the burial.

Buzby logs in all the transactions in the computerized database and files all the survivors’ letters — originals, translations and envelopes — in sheet protectors in a large binder, filling a new one every four months. If there’s time, she makes final edits on a book she has compiled of their letters and photos, which she offers as a gift to donors contributing $1,000 or more and which she hopes to publish.

“Nothing I can say compares with their words,” she said .

But the Survivor Mitzvah Project is only one of her full-time pursuits, and at 9 a.m., she turns to “Stomp the Run,” a serialized live-action comedy that she and Berkeley have been creating for the past three years, serving as directors/producers. Preproduction for 100 episodes began in November.

“It’s the first totally interactive show,” Buzby said, explaining that it will appear on “new media” such as cell phones and Web sites. For “Stomp the Run,” Buzby answers e-mails and fields calls to and from New York. Later she attends editing or casting sessions as well as other meetings and often works out of her production office in Hollywood.

Buzby, who grew up in East Meadow, Long Island, began her entertainment career as an actor, songwriter and film editor. She was also a singer and moved to Los Angeles in 1977 with Berkeley and their rock band B & B.

From there, Buzby began acting, with credits that include Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke,” John Ritter’s “Americathon” and “Oh, God!” with George Burns.

“I was always the crazy person,” she said.

In the 1980s, she moved into television, training in multicamera direction under “Cheers” co-creator James Burrows. She went on to direct about 200 comedic episodes, including “Newhart,” “Golden Girls” and “Married … With Children,” as well as other pilots and comedy series. Now “Stomp the Run” occupies all her time.

But along with her passion for comedy has been a passion for history — for her own Jewish heritage and for the “great immigration” and the Holocaust. She devours non-fiction and is currently reading “Women in the Holocaust” and “Minsk Ghetto.” On a trip to Hawaii, for beach reading, she brought along “The Destruction of Lithuanian Jewry.”

It was family history, however, that prompted the 2001 trip to Belarus to visit the former shtetls of her two grandmothers.

In Vishnevo, where the Jewish population was completely wiped out, she set out to find the grave of her great-grandmother, Basha Ita. Buzby and a guide searched all day for the cemetery. Finally, an elderly non-Jewish lady took them to a hill outside the town to an area, strewn with garbage and overgrown that is now the town dump. Crawling underneath the dense brush, they discovered the cemetery.

Determined to restore it, Buzby teamed up with an Israeli couple, originally from Vishnevo, and together they raised enough money to have the trees and trash removed and the tombstones righted. Four hundred graves were discovered, which were all photographed and mapped, although Basha Ita’s grave was never found.

Buzby’s passion for Jewish history also led to her business of selling and restoring samovars, candlesticks, Kiddush cups, menorahs and other Judaic ritual items, primarily from the late 1880s to early 20th century; many of them are museum-quality pieces.

She does much of the repair work herself in a home workshop equipped with the necessary tools, including a drill press she requested for one birthday.

“I’m the only one on this planet who has parts for samovars,” she claimed. Some items, such as wooden knobs and handles, she makes herself. She outsources other repairs to a few metalsmiths but laments that the profession is dying.

Buzby acquired her inventory in 1996 when she chanced upon a Judaic shop going out of business in New York’s Lower East Side. Hundreds of samovars, candlesticks and other items were slated to be melted down and sold according to weight. Buzby couldn’t allow it. She purchased the inventory from the shop’s owner and paid his rent for two months while she arranged to ship everything to California. Two years later, she opened her own business.

“I was compelled to save these things and get them back into modern life,” she said.

Buzby, who is named Zane after her great-grandmother Zipra, credits her family for her various passions and pursuits.

It was her father who told her, “You have a right to paint your dreams,” and her mother who instilled in her an avid desire to read. One grandfather, an eccentric, fun-loving man, taught her the importance of eating ice cream at 3 p.m. — every day. One grandmother, who died with a list in Yiddish of everything she planned to do for other people that day, modeled for her the value of doing mitzvot.

In the evenings, if she is not in the editing room for “Stomp the Run,” Buzby is back at her computer working on the Survivor Mitzvah Project. And while there’s always more to do, she tries to turn in before midnight.

“I have no problem sleeping,” she said.

Try these vegetarian delights — fit for a Persian queen


During our first trip to Israel many years ago we bought a humorous silver Purim grogger that depicts a man holding a goblet of wine, almost tipsy, dancing while being bucked by a frisky goat as a young boy looks on. We assumed it was made in Israel, but later we discovered it was handcrafted in Italy.

Since then we have collected Purim groggers from all over the world, made from many different materials — wood, bronze, silver and even ivory. Most of the groggers symbolize Haman, but some depict modern tyrants.

Last year my husband and I traveled to Israel with the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership on a cultural mission. We stayed in Tel Aviv, where we visited art galleries and several artists’ studios.

One day we drove to Jerusalem to see a wonderful exhibition at the Israel Museum as well as a private art collection. Just outside the Old City we discovered a street behind the King David Hotel that opens onto a private hillside walkway filled with galleries and shops that sell contemporary and traditional Judaica.

At the base of the steps was a gallery that was different from the others.

Beautiful embroidered tapestries lined the room, and on one of the walls was a colorfully hand-stitched Omer calendar used to count the days from Passover to Shavuot. The owner told us that most of the work was made by artist Adina Gatt. We asked the owner if Gatt had ever designed a grogger. She immediately called the artist, who drove the next day from Nahariyah to meet us in Tel Aviv.

Gatt arrived at our hotel in the afternoon, and when she unwrapped her grogger we could not believe our eyes. It was a nontraditional piece celebrating Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, rather than depicting Haman. It has banners embroidered in Hebrew and adorned with small brass bells hanging from each one, and the beautifully handcrafted piece is topped with a crown of bells. When the handle is twisted the fabric banners unfold, fly in a circle and the bells chime. Each banner quotes a passage from the Purim Megillah.

After we arranged to purchase the piece and have it sent to Los Angeles, we talked with Gatt about the foods that are served during the Purim celebrations, and she shared a few of her favorite recipes with me, including Hummus With Pita Bread and her Eggplant Casserole. Adina’s favorite dessert is cheesecake, which she makes for almost every holiday. During Purim she adds nuts and poppy seeds to celebrate Queen Esther’s traditonal characterization as a vegetarian.

Purim Poppy Seed Cheesecake
Almond Nut Crust (recipe follows)
2 cups sour cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons poppy seeds
4 eggs

Prepare, bake and cool the Almond Nut Crust.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a small bowl, beat the sour cream and 1 tablespoon of the sugar, 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon of the almond extract until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese with the remaining 1 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons of the poppy seeds until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in the remaining vanilla and almond extracts. Pour this filling into the prepared pan.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden. Remove the cake from the oven. Spread the prepared sour cream mixture on top and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds. Cool. Remove from the springform pan and serve cold.

Makes 16 servings.

Almond Nut Crust
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unpeeled whole almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Melt three tablespoons of butter. Brush a 9- or 10-inch springform pan with butter and set aside.

In a food processor or blender mix almonds and sugar until the almonds are coarsely chopped. Dice remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add butter and almond extract to food processor or blender and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides.

Press the almond mixture evenly into the bottom of the springform pan and 1?4 inch up the sides in the prepared pan. Bake for five to 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool.

Hummus With Pita Bread

Hummus is a simple, wonderfully flavorful dip or spread made from garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and tahini (sesame seed paste). Its texture is velvety, rich and firm enough to scoop up with wedges of pita bread or crisp vegetables. The taste is robust, nutty, garlicky and so satisfying that you won’t be able to stop eating it.

l can (15 ounce) garbanzo beans, with liquid
1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/2 cups lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup olive oil
6 fresh parsley sprigs, stemmed
1 to 2 teaspoons salt

Place the garbanzos in a food processor or blender and coarsely purée. Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and cumin and purée until smooth, drizzling the olive oil into the mixture during the mixing. Blend in the parsley leaves and l teaspoon of salt. Add additional salt to taste.

Serve with hot pita bread and sliced vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and jicama.

Makes six to eight servings.

Adina’s Eggplant Casserole

This casserole is wonderful as a main course, a side dish or as a topping over pasta.

Olive oil
2 medium-size eggplants
6 firm tomatoes, preferably locally grown
6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the broiler. Line two to three baking sheets with aluminum foil and brush with olive oil.

New ‘Encyclopedia Judaica’ goes from Aachen to Zyrardow


The editors of the new edition of the “Encyclopaedia Judaica” confronted a whole new world.

In the more than 30 years since the first edition was published, Jewish life has been revitalized in the former communist world, Las Vegas and Atlanta


Volumes of Work

Key facts about the second edition of the “Encyclopaedia Judaica”:

  • Total entries: 21,632.
  • Total new entries: 2,664.
  • Total entry words: 15,818,675.
  • Approximate number of main body pages (excluding index volume): 17,000.
  • New bibliographical references: 30,021.
  • Longest entry: Israel, land and state, approximately 600,000 words.
  • Longest bibliography: kabbalah.
  • Most writers for a single entry: Bible – the ancient biblical translations subsection had 11 writers, one for each language (Ethiopic, Armenian, Syriac, etc.).

have become fast-growing Jewish communities and women have taken a much more active role in Jewish life — and their contributions have been increasingly recognized.

“The original edition did not take into account that 50 percent of Jews are women,” said Judith Baskin, director of the Jewish studies program at the University of Oregon and the encyclopedia’s assistant editor for women and gender.

The new edition, the encyclopedia’s second, attempts to rectify that oversight with more than 300 new entries on Jewish women, including biographical entries on well-known figures such as former U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.) and entries on lesser-known women like Beatrice Alexander, founder of the Madame Alexander doll collection, and Asenath Barzani, an Iraqi woman trained by her father in the 1600s as a Torah scholar.

These are among roughly 2,700 new entries in the new edition to be published Dec. 8 by Macmillan Reference USA and Israel’s Keter Publishing. The 22 volumes contain more than 21,000 entries on Jewish life.

A licensed, online version also will be available, but the hope is that institutions, and some individuals, will be willing to fork over $1,995 — the online version will cost a few hundred dollars more — to have everything they wanted to know about the Jews printed and at their fingertips. The comprehensiveness offered by the collection is not available in any one online source, said Jay Flynn of Thomson Gale, which owns Macmillan Reference USA.

“Certainly, you can go out and find a biography of Billy Crystal and you can read it,” Flynn said. “What we’re really trying to deliver” is accessibility and authority.

Plus, Jews buy books out of proportion to their numbers, said Michael Berenbaum, the encyclopedia’s executive editor.
“It’s the smell of leather and all that stuff,” said Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar known for his work in creating the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

It took a lot of effort to create that “stuff.” Several years in the making, the encyclopedia relied on a worldwide team of scholars, including about 1,200 new contributors. Luckily, the field of Jewish studies has experienced exponential growth in recent years.

“You’re going to a man or woman who has devoted his or her entire life to a topic and you say, ‘Give me 500 words,'” Berenbaum said.
Those scholars pored over all the entries — from Aachen to Zyrardow — and updated 11,000 of them.

Overall, the new edition has more entries covering Jewish life in the Southern Hemisphere — Australia and South America, for example — and the sections on U.S. Jewish life and the Holocaust have been strengthened.

The dilemmas Berenbaum and his team faced on how to cover certain topics are almost talmudic. For example, how do you describe Jewish life in New York City? Their answer: Give a portrait of several neighborhoods, such as the historic German Jewish neighborhood of Washington Heights and the contemporary, heavily Orthodox neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park.

“We gave it a lot of flavor, something that the first encyclopedia was much less interested in,” Berenbaum said, though he’s quick to praise the editors of the first encyclopedia for their prodigious efforts in the pre-Internet era.

Also adding contemporary flavor to the new edition are entries discussing baseball player Shawn Green and the recent popularization of kabbalah. Not surprisingly, Israel is the largest single entry, with an entire volume devoted to the Jewish state. Coming in second is the Holocaust.

Entries on Holocaust-related matters created more questions: Should the noted Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt have her own entry or should her biography be part of an entry about the highly publicized trial in 2000 that Lipstadt won after historian David Irving sued her in a British court, claiming she defamed him in a book by calling him a Holocaust denier?

The decision? Berenbaum is cagey.

“Read the encyclopedia,” he said.

More information about the new “Encyclopaedia Judaica” is available at www.encyclopaediajudaica.com

Sondheim Knows How to Book ‘Em


Some people begin collecting because they’ve coveted certain objects for as long as they can remember. Others collect as an investment. And, of course, there are poseurs who hire prestige dealers to buy them trendy art because they want to be viewed as taste mavens.

Harry Sondheim, a retired criminal prosecutor for the L.A. County D.A.’s office, started to collect Judaica for none of those reasons. He was traveling in Holland when he simply noticed an artifact that appealed to him: “They had a museum, Der Weg, which means the Weighing House. They had an artist named Bicart. I bought some postcards with depictions of Jewish ceremonies on them. You can’t buy those postcards any longer.”

Reflecting his legal training, Sondheim answers questions methodically. Even his decision to focus on rare books, as opposed to art, shows a judicious attitude.

“It’s pretty hard to falsify a book,” he said, adding, “they’re not as likely to be stolen. If you have a thief in the house, they’re more likely to steal a silver menorah.”

Maybe it matters, too, that Sondheim attended the University of Chicago in the era when that institution still featured the Great Books courses.

Sondheim will be speaking at the 39th California International Antiquarian Book Fair’s “Collecting Your Roots” panel on Sunday, Feb. 19.

He especially likes rare manuscripts that include illustrations or, as he says, “depictions” of Jewish ceremonies and customs.

Sondheim has never taken a vacation specifically to collect books, but has purchased manuscripts at synagogues, museums and bookstores around the world, including Germany, where he can trace his genealogy back to around 1760. His family fled Germany in 1938, several months before Kristallnacht. The tomes he favors are typically printed in German, their existence all the more remarkable because of the Nazis’ program of burning Jewish books.

The best deal he ever got was a work by Arthur Szyk, a Polish Jewish artist from the first half of the 20th century who specialized in political caricatures and miniature painting. Given Sondheim’s background in the law, it is not surprising that he bought the “Statut of Kalisz.” The book is Szyk’s interpretation of a 13th-century manuscript that has been called the “Jewish Magna Carta,” a decree by which a Polish king gave Jews civil rights. Szyk illustrated the manuscript while also relating the statute to some other events in Jewish history.

“One page shows different occupations a Jew might have had, weaving, baking, a cobbler,” Sondheim said. “I acquired that at a reasonable price, around $17,000. Someone else’s copy was recently auctioned off for $64,000.”

Sondheim does not use eBay though he’ll search through an auction house’s Web site, which he calls “the equivalent of having their catalog.”

Collecting, he says, is “a sort of continuum. There are pictures of chuppahs from hundreds of years ago, and you have chuppahs today. You live the present through the past.”

The 39th California International Antiquarian Book Fair will be held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, 2025 Avenue of the Stars, from Friday, Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 19. Harry Sondheim will speak at the “Collecting Your Roots” panel, a free seminar, on Sunday at 2 p.m. For information, call (800) 454-6401.

 

Ex-Communist ‘Burb Makes Menorahs


 

The model suburb of Nowa Huta was built here under a Communist philosophy of atheism.

Now it houses a workshop that manufactures menorahs — popular with both Poles and tourists.

Metalodlew, a private company that was started 10 years ago, rents space from the Nowa Huta steelworks, a factory that is part of a complex established in the 1950s on the outskirts of Krakow.

In the workshop, menorahs are produced alongside plaques for Catholic cemetery plots and life-size bronze figures of Pope John Paul II.

The menorahs were originally designed by an artist; now they’re cast into a mold.

Menorahs are made and sold year round, alongside Metalodlew’s larger business of ship parts, plaques and smaller artistic pieces.

Other Judaica items can be custom-made but requests are rare, according to Pawel Bieniek, export sales manager for Metalodlew.

Waldemar Pietras, who runs the workshop, said all kinds of people buy the menorahs, which are sold in the gift shop located at the factory site.

“They know what they’re buying,” Bieniek said. “People like to have these things. They know about Jewish history.”

All the menorahs made at the factory have seven branches, a departure from the nine-armed versions most American Jews light to celebrate Chanukah.

Karolina Komarowska, a master’s student in Jewish studies at the Jagiellonian University here in Krakow, says most American Jews are largely unfamiliar with their design.

Komarowska, who also works at the Galicia Jewish Museum, says many Eastern European Jews traditionally used the seven-branched menorah.

“When Poles think about symbols of Judaism, they think Magen David and seven-armed menorah,” she said.

The custom is ancient: The Temple contained a seven-branched menorah, although the nine-branched version — for the eight days of Chanukah, plus the shamash, or lighting candle — is now more popular worldwide.

That the workshop is in Nowa Huta is something of an irony.

Nowa Huta was designed in the 1950 as a garden city, with housing blocs and greenery sharing space in a series of neighborhoods that spun out from a central plaza.

The centerpiece of Nowa Huta was the steelworks, which is located far from any mines or ores but which sought to offset the intellectual atmosphere that pervaded Krakow.

Workers were given jobs in various parts of the steelworks, and were assigned apartments nearby for convenient access to the factory.

Today, the factory languishes, buildings stand empty and many of the former workers and their families are unemployed, Bieniek said.

While communism has fallen, Poland has become infatuated with its Jewish past — Poland, currently home to fewer than 5,000 Jews, had 3.5 million Jews before World War II.

In Krakow, one can find many examples of Judaica sold on Krakow’s main market square and in museums and specialty shops throughout the city, including Jewish stars, Torah-reading pointers, carved wooden figurines of old-fashioned Jews as well as menorahs.

Komorowska says the menorahs manufactured in Nowa Huta are often bought by Polish merchants who sell souvenirs to tourists and interested Poles.

“When people come to Krakow, [Kazimierz, the city’s historic Jewish district] is something they all see along with the city center and Wawel Castle,” Komarowska said. “Tourists buy these things because they like Jewish people.”

 

Art of the Scalpel


Archie Granot is very careful and precise when making incisions with his scalpel — yet he knows he’ll never be sued if he makes a mistake. As the world’s leading paper cut artist in the area of Judaica, the London native is among 30 artists from Israel and the United States whose work will be on display at Temple Isaiah’s 22nd annual Festival of Jewish Artisans on Nov. 16 and 17.

Granot, who resides in Jerusalem, discovered his talent for paper cutting — an ancient art form that involves snipping and layering multitextured paper to create designs — several years ago when his daughter came home with a menorah she made in school. Inspired, Granot made his first masterpiece, which he claims was a disaster. "I was lucky that my parents liked it because I might never have done another," said the artist with a laugh. He is currently touring the United States with his works.

Upon studying the art form, Granot, 65, decided to focus on Judaic life cycles. His work includes ketubbot, mezuzot and haggadot, among other traditional Jewish relics. "When I’d look at paper cuts around the world, Polish paper cuts were made in Poland, Moroccan [paper cuts] were made in Morocco, so it seemed right, as a Jew living in Jerusalem, to make Judaica," Granot said.

While most paper-cut artists work with a knife or scissors, Granot uses a scalpel, after recalling using the tool for dissection in his high school zoology class. The artist is a regular customer at the local medical supply store, as he goes through 30 or 40 scalpels in a short period of time. Thinking back to that science class long ago, Granot is thrilled to have found his passion with the use of the delicate tool. "It’s much more aesthetic cutting paper than dissecting," he said.

Archie Granot will conduct a paper-cutting workshop Sunday, Nov. 16. at Temple Isaiah’s Festival of Jewish Artisans, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Other featured artists include silversmith Emil Shenfeld and jeweler Shula Baron. For more information, times and tickets, call (310) 277-2772.

Jewish Art Makeover


A women’s tefillin set with a beaded velvet box and blue satin straps.

A silver "Kiddush" cup in which ceremonial wine passes through a delicately crafted silver net formed from the Hebrew word for "blessed."

A sukkah with brightly painted walls made of the long, plastic

strips found in industrial-sized refrigerators — and furnished with stools and a mirrored table symbolizing the self-reflection expected during the High Holy Days.

This is not your parents’ Judaica.

For years, Jewish ritual objects and Jewish fine arts have occupied very different domains.

Ceremonial objects, mostly produced by artisans, often mimicked traditional styles and — while beautiful and useful — were not necessarily cutting-edge artistically.

Jewish fine arts pieces, in contrast, have generally been more about aesthetics and ideas than ritual function.

But partly due to the encouragement of several Jewish institutions, numerous Jewish and non-Jewish artists are using their skills and creativity to reinterpret items used in Jewish worship.

"There’s more blurring of the lines between art and functional Judaica," said Susan Braunstein, curator of archaeology and Judaica for the Jewish Museum in New York.

The Jewish Museum recently created a staff position focusing on "contemporary ceremonial art," and is seeking artists who are "working within tradition but pushing the boundaries," Braunstein said.

The Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion recently marked the seminary’s 125th anniversary by inviting 153 artists to create "contemporary and innovative works of Jewish ceremonial art," according to the catalog for the resulting exhibition.

Since 1994, the Spertus Museum of the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago has sponsored biennial competitions focusing on specific ceremonial objects. The Jewish Museum San Francisco also sponsors competitions for Jewish ritual objects.

A new national project — called "Avoda: Objects of the Spirit" — reaches out to young Jewish artists with workshops in which they create avant-garde ceremonial objects.

Spertus — which gets 150 to 180 entrants for each competition — has offered prizes for Torah scroll covers, Chanukah menorahs, seder plates and Havdalah spice boxes, and has created exhibits of the top pieces. The next competition will be for mezuzot.

"The people who designed them are not just artisans; they’re architects, they’re designers and, as a result, the pieces we receive are extremely unusual and avant-garde, even ones where they’re basing the designs on traditional ideas," said Olga Weiss, Spertus’ curator for special exhibitions.

In the HUC exhibit — which will become a permanent feature with rotating artwork — pieces included Torah scrolls, tzedakah boxes, spice boxes for Havdalah, mezuzot, seder plates, matzah covers and chuppot, or wedding canopies.

The new pieces experiment with a variety of materials, ranging from fabric, gems, wood and silver to old Jewish National Fund tins and — in the case of a Miriam’s cup, for a new feminist Passover ritual — a pomegranate skin.

Many also offer a modern spin on Jewish rituals.

For example, an embroidered and painted matzah cover created by Judy Chicago of New Mexico — who is nationally known for her feminist art — has images of three women in the hagaddah, personalities who generally don’t get a lot of attention in the retelling of the "Exodus" story. A sukkah has wooden chairs painted and decorated with objects that symbolize biblical heroines such as Esther and Sarah.

A feather and candle for use in checking the home for foods that cannot be eaten during Passover sits in a silver tractor reminiscent of those used on kibbutzim.

While most artists created new versions of existing ritual objects, some developed pieces for new rituals.

Ayana Friedman of Jerusalem created "Deborah’s Throne," a chair covered with crimson velvet, for baby girls to sit on during the simchat bat, or girls’ naming ceremony, a relatively new ritual. Friedman, who also created the blue velvet women’s tefillin, describes the piece as "the feminist response to the ‘Elijah’s Throne’ on which baby boys are circumcised."

Michael Berkowitz of New York made a large purple and black paper cut amulet to protect those around it from "madness" and depression.

"The artists are not trying to replicate and simply reiterate the forms of the past, which is what you basically find for the most part in a lot of high-priced Jewish shops," said Jean Bloch Rosensaft, exhibitions director for HUC.

"They’re trying to make Judaica that speaks to the consciousness of our own time."

Berkowitz, 48, whose work has appeared in a variety of Jewish and secular venues, sees his interest in Jewish art as part of a larger trend of artists "going back to their roots as inspiration." He grew up attending yeshiva and, as a child, wanted to be a rabbi until he became more interested in art.

"For me, the impulse has always been the same," he said. "I’ve seen being an artist as something of a spiritual guide between the divine and the mundane."

It has not always been so easy finding a niche for his work.

While the symbols of other faiths often make their way into fine arts pieces, Berkowitz said, "there’s a big resistance to people looking at anything with Jewish calligraphy or Jewish symbolism as being anything other than Judaica. And the Judaica audience is very traditional and resists anything that looks too different."

However, he said, that is starting to change.

Alyssa Dee Krauss, 38, of Leeds, Mass., who created the "Kiddush" cup with the silver netting, welcomed the HUC exhibit for its "contemporary and more updated questioning of traditional practices."

"There’s a little pushing of that edge, of contemporary accepted standard ways of doing things," Krauss said. "Whenever I see that, I’m always excited."

Both HUC and Spertus distributed reference materials on Judaism and rituals in order to help guide the artists — who range from those working primarily in Jewish themes to those who have little Jewish education to those who are not even Jewish — in reimagining the objects.

The Jewish Museum, which is approaching some Jewish and non- Jewish artists, is developing a guide that will explain Jewish ritual objects to artists, craftspeople and industrial designers not familiar with the requirements of the rituals.

The new HUC pieces range in price from $75 to $75,000 — many of which are being purchased by synagogues and individuals.

"Apparently there’s a demand for something that’s a little different," Weiss said.

An End to Denial


The Borough Park section of Brooklyn is one of America’s most visibly Jewish neighborhoods.

On several residential blocks of one- and two-family brick homes, almost every front door has a mezuzah. Modestly dressed women push strollers, while girls in dresses and boys in tzitzit and kippot play on the sidewalks. Sixteenth Avenue, one of the main drags, is lined with religious study centers and yeshivot, small synagogues and Judaica stores.

And in the middle of it all is an agency that runs a treatment program for Orthodox Jewish pedophiles.

Orthodox pedophiles?

For years, most people in the Orthodox world assumed their religious way of life and tight-knit communities insulated them from problems rocking the larger world, like sexual abuse.

There is still a great deal of resistance to discussing the issue, and a lingering feeling among many victims and advocates that Orthodox institutions are more concerned with protecting the reputations of men accused of sexual abuse than with believing or helping victims.

But fueled by a combination of factors — recent scandals, a growing cadre of Orthodox psychotherapists in whom Orthodox Jews feel comfortable confiding, and American society’s growing openness about sensitive social problems — that sense of insularity is eroding.

Among the indicators of change:

In the wake of public allegations last year that Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a high-ranking professional in the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth, had sexually abused more than 20 teen-age girls, the O.U., which had been accused of protecting Lanner, underwent an investigation by an independent commission, made some key staff changes and vowed to implement policies to prevent future abuse.

Four years ago, at the request of the Brooklyn district attorney’s, ofice, Borough Park’s Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services — which already treated Jewish survivors of sexual abuse — created the first-ever treatment program specifically for Orthodox sex offenders. More than 30 people, half referred through the criminal justice system and half through rabbis and Jewish communal leaders, have received evaluation or treatment through the program; more are on a waiting list.

At its convention this year, the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents 1,100 mainstream Orthodox rabbis, held an open and detailed discussion about sexual abuse, led by Dr. Susan Shulman, a pediatrician who served on the O.U.’s commission investigating the Lanner scandal and who lectures frequently about sexual abuse.

In the aftermath of two publicized cases of pedophilia — one concerning a rabbi teaching at a day school and another concerning a kosher butcher — the Chicago Rabbinical Council recently created a special beit din, or rabbinical court, to address sexual abuse. The court, which has four rabbis from different sectors of the local Orthodox community, consults with a team of psychologists, social workers and lawyers.

According to David Mandel, chief executive officer of Ohel, Orthodox schools and other institutions increasingly are hosting workshops educating parents and teachers on how to prevent abuse against children and how to identify the symptoms indicating that a child may have been abused. In the past year, Ohel participated in more than 12 seminars or conference sessions on the topic, about twice as many as in previous years.

Sexual abuse is hardly unique to the Orthodox community, and many who work in the field say there appear to be far fewer incidents in the Jewish community than in American society as a whole.

Problems like victims’ reluctance to come forward, difficulty proving cases, and a tendency of people not to want to believe accusations are vexing issues in any community. Even when caught, sexual abusers are difficult to treat, and many experts say they must be watched vigilantly because they never fully recover.

But there are certain aspects of Orthodox life that make such problems especially challenging.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the wall of silence and denial.

"We’re a community that would like to believe that our religious lives prevent these problems," said Rabbi Yosef Blau, a spiritual guidance counselor at Yeshiva University’s rabbinic seminary and someone known as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse.

Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies and sociology at the City University of New York, said the presence of sexual abuse "calls into question some of the deeply held values of Orthodoxy — mainly that if you maintain a strict attachment to Jewish tradition and values, somehow that would insulate you from all that is evil in society."

In addition, there is a historic Jewish tendency, particularly acute in the Orthodox world, to keep quiet about sensitive issues for fear of publicly scandalizing the community.

Many Orthodox Jews also fear that embarrassing information could jeopardize future wedding matches for individuals and their families.

Another obstacle is that the many demands of an Orthodox lifestyle — and the fact that Orthodox Jews must live within walking distance of synagogue — make Orthodox communities tight-knit. That can make it hard for a victim to come forward, particularly if the abuser is prominent or well liked.

When the perpetrator is a rabbi or other respected member of the community, victims have an even greater difficulty, given Orthodox Judaism’s reverence for rabbinical authority figures.

"If a kid goes to a parent and says, ‘My rebbe did something to me,’ the parents tend to believe the rabbi, not the child," Blau said.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is that most Orthodox institutions lack a formal system for preventing or reporting abuse.

Rabbi Gedalia Schwartz, chief presiding rabbi of the Chicago Rabbinical Council and the Beit Din of America, a national rabbinical court under RCA auspices, urges victims to go to the police as well.

"Some might say, send [the abuser] to another community," Schwartz said. "That’s no good because if he goes to another community he will do the same thing."

However, some communities do just that.

In her RCA speech, Shulman told of an anonymous rabbi who impregnated a student while he was principal of a school for Jewish girls with learning disabilities. When he was fired, he moved to another community where he is "still a prominent rabbi."

Despite the remaining challenges, some in the Orthodox world find solace in the fact that the topic is now on the table and that some treatment programs are out there.

"People are discussing a topic that truly wasn’t discussed," Ohel’s Mandel point out.

Education Briefs


A highlight of the annual religious school educators conference sponsored by the Bureau of Jewish Education is always the presentation of the Lainer Awards. These cash awards, established in 1989, go to talented educators who help perpetuate Jewish traditions and values in a religious school setting. Most of the winners have an in-depth knowledge of Judaica, and have committed much of their professional lives to Jewish institutions.

Such is the case of Neal Schnall, longtime religious school principal at Valley Beth Shalom, and Dalia Frank, who has taught for over 30 years at Ner Tamid of South Bay. Then there’s this year’s third recipient, a spirited young woman who balances her devotion to Leo Baeck Temple with an equally strong dedication to the children of McKinley Avenue Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles.

Candace Baker grew up in Brentwood, and was — she claims — the only dark-haired person at Palisades High School. Her family belonged to University Synagogue; she served as a day camp counselor for the Jewish Community Centers Association, and spent weekends working at Camp Swig. Her college career began at UC Santa Barbara, but — once again daunted by the preponderance of blondes — she transferred to UC Berkeley, graduating with a degree in urban studies. From there it was only a quick hop into the field of elementary education. “With my personality,” quips Baker, “there wasn’t much choice.”

In 1984 she began teaching kindergartners in Leo Baeck’s Sunday School program. A large part of her curriculum there is “Gefilte, the Wish Fish,” who leaves her students upbeat messages like, “Do not feel blue-ish; it’s great to be Jewish.” Baker freely admits that she’s not deeply versed in Jewish theology. Early on, during a period of self-doubt, she confessed to then-education director Linda Thal, “I don’t believe in God. You should fire me.” Thal’s answer: “Jews are supposed to question. Now go teach!” What Baker is adept at teaching is ethics, and “how to be a mensch.” This fits in well at Leo Baeck, where the congregation is philosophically committed to social awareness.

Because of Baker, there’s now a growing link between Leo Baeck families and the children of McKinley Elementary.

McKinley is one of the lowest-achieving schools in Los Angeles. Its students, all of them black or Latino, live well below the poverty line. But since her arrival there in 1985, Baker has never felt like an outsider: “It was easy for me from the beginning, because I’m funny.”

Her quirky personality has helped motivate children to learn English and produce award-winning art projects. Typically, Baker credits the members of Leo Baeck for some of her own classroom accomplishments. She cites the case of her “ritzy friend,” Susan Irving, whom she persuaded to come demonstrate quilt-making at McKinley. What started as a one-time visit has turned into a five-year commitment — quilts created by Baker’s students have been displayed at Barnsdall Park and at UCLA’s Fowler Museum. Irving has also helped locate five computers for Baker’s classroom. And each year some 30 Leo Baeck members — including doctors, lawyers, and Hollywood writers — trek to McKinley for the school’s annual career day.

Baker is perhaps proudest that she has managed to involve her Leo Baeck children in the lives of their McKinley counterparts. Yearly, she collects mounds of “gently used” books from Leo Baeck students so that the McKinley kids can have their own classroom lending library. And last year she organized a Leo Baeck field trip to the McKinley campus where children from both communities enjoyed what she calls “Chanukah in the ‘hood,” complete with latkes, dreydels and a menorah. It’s important for all of them, she feels, to learn to respect other people’s traditions: “I don’t want them to be limited, like I was, growing up in Brentwood.”

Baker has always taught the McKinley children about Jewish festivals, along with holidays from other cultures. They particularly like Chanukah, when she kindles her menorah, turns off the lights and reads stories. As perhaps “the only Jewish person they’ll meet,” she’s highly conscious of being a good role model. She recalls one little boy, a beneficiary of the Leo Baeck book drive, happily sighing, “I love the Jewish people!”

Double Duty


A highlight of the annual religious school educators conference sponsored by the Bureau of Jewish Education is always the presentation of the Lainer Awards. These cash awards, established in 1989, go to talented educators who help perpetuate Jewish traditions and values in a religious school setting. Most of the winners have an in-depth knowledge of Judaica, and have committed much of their professional lives to Jewish institutions.

Such is the case of Neal Schnall, longtime religious school principal at Valley Beth Shalom, and Dalia Frank, who has taught for over 30 years at Ner Tamid of South Bay. Then there’s this year’s third recipient, a spirited young woman who balances her devotion to Leo Baeck Temple with an equally strong dedication to the children of McKinley Avenue Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles.

Candace Baker grew up in Brentwood, and was — she claims — the only dark-haired person at Palisades High School. Her family belonged to University Synagogue; she served as a day camp counselor for the Jewish Community Centers Association, and spent weekends working at Camp Swig. Her college career began at UC Santa Barbara, but — once again daunted by the preponderance of blondes — she transferred to UC Berkeley, graduating with a degree in urban studies. From there it was only a quick hop into the field of elementary education. “With my personality,” quips Baker, “there wasn’t much choice.”

In 1984 she began teaching kindergartners in Leo Baeck’s Sunday School program. A large part of her curriculum there is “Gefilte, the Wish Fish,” who leaves her students upbeat messages like, “Do not feel blue-ish; it’s great to be Jewish.” Baker freely admits that she’s not deeply versed in Jewish theology. Early on, during a period of self-doubt, she confessed to then-education director Linda Thal, “I don’t believe in God. You should fire me.” Thal’s answer: “Jews are supposed to question. Now go teach!” What Baker is adept at teaching is ethics, and “how to be a mensch.” This fits in well at Leo Baeck, where the congregation is philosophically committed to social awareness.

Because of Baker, there’s now a growing link between Leo Baeck families and the children of McKinley Elementary.

McKinley is one of the lowest-achieving schools in Los Angeles. Its students, all of them black or Latino, live well below the poverty line. But since her arrival there in 1985, Baker has never felt like an outsider: “It was easy for me from the beginning, because I’m funny.”

Her quirky personality has helped motivate children to learn English and produce award-winning art projects. Typically, Baker credits the members of Leo Baeck for some of her own classroom accomplishments. She cites the case of her “ritzy friend,” Susan Irving, whom she persuaded to come demonstrate quilt-making at McKinley. What started as a one-time visit has turned into a five-year commitment — quilts created by Baker’s students have been displayed at Barnsdall Park and at UCLA’s Fowler Museum. Irving has also helped locate five computers for Baker’s classroom. And each year some 30 Leo Baeck members — including doctors, lawyers, and Hollywood writers — trek to McKinley for the school’s annual career day.

Baker is perhaps proudest that she has managed to involve her Leo Baeck children in the lives of their McKinley counterparts. Yearly, she collects mounds of “gently used” books from Leo Baeck students so that the McKinley kids can have their own classroom lending library. And last year she organized a Leo Baeck field trip to the McKinley campus where children from both communities enjoyed what she calls “Chanukah in the ‘hood,” complete with latkes, dreydels and a menorah. It’s important for all of them, she feels, to learn to respect other people’s traditions: “I don’t want them to be limited, like I was, growing up in Brentwood.”

Baker has always taught the McKinley children about Jewish festivals, along with holidays from other cultures. They particularly like Chanukah, when she kindles her menorah, turns off the lights and reads stories. As perhaps “the only Jewish person they’ll meet,” she’s highly conscious of being a good role model. She recalls one little boy, a beneficiary of the Leo Baeck book drive, happily sighing, “I love the Jewish people!”

The Power of Israel


My name is Sarah — actually, it used to be Sarah, but that was before I went to Israel and experienced the best summer of my life. A summer that changed me forever.

In one summer, I made new friends, saw sights that brought history alive, learned more Hebrew and Judaica than textbooks had ever provided, and discovered a sense of home — and of myself.

One of the great things about taking a teen trip to Israel is that you meet and travel with kids of your own age, learn together, share adventures and experiences and form friendships.

The truth is I’d never been away from home for more than two weeks, and that was for vacations with family members and friends on the East Coast. I was apprehensive about going to Israel — so far away and different — and without the anchor of friends or family members.