Eli Mordechai showing off a crocodile-skin kippah at his Fifth Quarter store in Jerusalem on Sept. 12. Screenshot from Facebook

Why Israel went wild over $1,000-plus crocodile-skin kippahs


For a few days, exotic animal-skin kippahs were something of a sensation in Israel.

Curious locals and journalists rushed to a Judaica store in the Old City here to marvel at the new luxury-marketed crocodile, python and cowhide Jewish head coverings. An ostrich edition was said to be coming soon.

But as the hype grew, so did the public backlash.

Last week, the government confiscated the kippahs as illegally imported wild animal products.

“The inspector came after we got this very, very negative reaction,” said store manager Shaun Nathan. “I understand the argument, I really do, but we were hearing from this ridiculous lunatic fringe. People were phoning us and threatening to burn down the store.”

It all started with some local yeshiva boys who stopped by the store on Sept. 4. Impressed by the newly arrived yarmulkes, one of them posted photos on Facebook. By the next day, newspaper reporters and TV crews were on the scene.

The Fifth Quarter Judaica store’s owner, Eli Mordechai, gamely showed off the kippahs, which are sold in fabric-lined oak boxes for as much as $1,400 each. They even come with built-in hair clips. Mordechai touted them as must-have headwear for observant Jews seeking that Russian oligarch look.

“These kippot were born out of the desire to provide people who live in a world of luxury and brands a kippah befitting their lifestyle,” he told Israel’s popular Yediot Acharonot newspaper. “A person wearing a $10,000 Gucci suit won’t be caught dead wearing a $50 off-brand kippah.”

David Roytman’s python-skin kippah, center, is flanked by crocodile-skin kippahs on display at the Fifth Quarter store in Jerusalem, Aug. 21, 2017. (Facebook)

Typical kippahs are made from cloth, cotton yarn, velvet or leather.

Yediot noted that the exotic kippahs are made from unkosher animals. But Mordechai assured the newspaper that unlike tefillin, mezuzahs or Torah scrolls, kippahs can be made from any material according to Jewish law.

As it turned out, the outrage came not from stringent Jews but from supporters of animal rights. Israel is a hotbed of activism on behalf of animals, and as much as 13 percent of its population is said to be vegetarian or vegan.

While no major organizations seemed to take up the cause, thousands of online commenters railed against Fifth Quarter for selling the kippahs. Some blamed Judaism, while others said it was a violation of the religion.

“Shameful and disgraceful religious hypocrisy. Even religious objects have a limit,” one woman wrote on Facebook. “God never said in the Bible that abuse of animals is OK and this is undoubtedly abuse.”

The exterior of the Fifth Quarter store in Jerusalem. (Courtesy of Fifth Quarter)

Angry phone calls started coming into the store, too. Nathan said the first person to call after the news broke, an elderly vegan woman, politely suggested that any profit from the kippahs was not worth the moral cost. But the callers became hostile, he said, with some threatening violence.

A few critics even linked the kippahs to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Nathan said, declaring things like, “These people are ethnically cleansing children anyway, so who cares about a python?”

Apparently alerted by the media coverage, an inspector from Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority came to the store Sept. 7 and confiscated the kippahs along with some crocodile skin mezuzahs from the same producer. He said they had been imported without the testing and approval required of products derived from wild animals.

Despite all the fuss, Fifth Quarter had only stocked one of each style of kippah and two of the mezuzahs, and had sold none, Nathan said. He said he has been awaiting a larger shipment of more products, including ostrich skin tefillin bags.

In the meantime, the kippahs had been placed on a glass display case in a room filled with Jewish tourist attractions. The store holds free educational lectures and workshops about some of its products, like an aquarium filled with blue snails that some believe are the source of the turquoise dye used in sacred Jewish garments in ancient times.

“Basically, we try to highlight Judaism and Jewish life through art and Judaic design,” Nathan said. “One of our shticks is we have special items to try to bring in tourists.”

David Roytman posing with exotic animal skin kippahs at his store in Moscow, July 13, 2017. (Facebook)

The designer of the kippahs is David Roytman, a Ukraine-born Israeli specializing in “luxury Judaica.” He said he created the first kippah “prototype” in 2015, and noted that he has a stingray skin design as well.

“People spend thousands of dollars on a luxury watch and shoes, and they wear something on their head that looks like a disaster,” he said. “My idea was to make a respectable kippah.”

Although Mordechai told Yediot his was the first store in Israel to carry the kippahs, Roytman said his products have been “displayed exclusively” at the Hazorfim Judaica store in Tel Aviv, as well as in New York, Toronto, London, and Russian, European and Central Asian cities. They are also for sale on the website.

Roytman said he could do nothing to help Fifth Quarter with its permit issue, but expected their business partnership to resume when it was resolved.

As to the animal rights outcry, he said it was “ridiculous” for people to get so upset over kippahs given the other problems the region faces, “but this is Israel.”

Nathan said he sees things differently.

While the final decision is Mordechai’s, Nathan said he believes the store would be wise to get out of a business that kills animals to make kippahs for oligarchs — especially given the public relations headache.

“If I look back at it now, it’s not a cool product. It really isn’t,” he said. “It brought us a lot of attention, and people will definitely buy it. But we really don’t want any part it.”

Prague subway employee allegedly threatened to ‘cut off’ head of kippah-wearing passenger


The company operating Prague’s subway is investigating a complaint alleging one of its employees threatened to “cut off the head” of a Jewish passenger wearing a kippah.

The incident was reported last week by a member of Prague’s Bejt Simcha Reform Community, Petr Papousek, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, told JTA Tuesday.

The Prague Public Transit Company, he said, “is taking the complaint very seriously, and is investigating the details of the incident in order to draw conclusions on the behavior of the employee in question,” Papousek said. He did not identify the complainant, who requested anonymity.

A man wearing the transit company’s uniform earlier this month harassed the alleged victim in the presence of witnesses aboard the B line, which runs through the Czech capital and its Old Town, the Jewish news website ZTIS reported. According to the account, the uniformed man told the Jewish passenger:  “When we meet next time, Jews, it’ll be to cut off your head.”

None of the other passengers intervened, according to the report. The alleged victim took a picture of the man who he said threatened him. It shows a man with a shaved head facing away from the camera while putting on a black coat over the company’s blue uniform. He is wearing black boots.

Papousek said he had no reason to doubt the veracity of the report, but added that “it is a rare and unusual incident in Prague, which is safer for Jews than many other European cities, including Budapest.”

The complainant further said that another employee of the same company advised him not to wear a kippah while taking the subway because it invites attack. But the firm denies this.

In a statement published last week, the transport company promised to punish the man accused of threatening the Jewish passenger if the alleged perpetrator turns out to be an employee of the company and if the accusation against him checks out.

“If it turns out that the behavior described was by a staff employee of the Prague Public Transit Company, he will face consequences for his actions,” the company said. “But we resolutely reject that our employee had recommended a dress code or made any other proposals.”

Kippah-clad beatboxers wow the judges on ‘America’s Got Talent’


A kippah-clad, tzitzit-wearing beatboxing duo has advanced on “America’s Got Talent.”

Ilan Swartz-Brownstein and Josh Leviton of Manhattan performed to Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” on the NBC reality show Tuesday night for the final episode of the season’s auditions.

Their performance was rewarded with a resounding yes from all four judges, moving them to the next round of the competition.

Swartz-Brownstein, a student at Yeshiva University, and Leviton, a consultant, met three years ago at the Western Wall when they were yeshiva students in Israel, they told the judges.

Leviton, who goes by the moniker “The Orthobox,” has performed with the popular Jewish a cappella group The Maccabeats. Swartz-Brownstein is known as “The Aleph Bass.”

In their audition video submitted last year, they were beatboxing to “Hava Nagila.”

Rabbi of Western Wall apologizes for kippah incident


The rabbi of the Western Wall apologized that a woman was turned away from the holy site for wearing a kippah, but said he was not familiar with the incident.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch said in a statement issued Tuesday that if the incident did occur, the response was incorrect.

Rabinovitch also said that the Israel Police have not reported such an incident involving a woman identified by the Women of the Wall group only as Linda, a recently arrived American yeshiva student.

“If there was an incident of this kind, Western Wall officials were wrong to prevent Linda from entering,” the rabbi said. “The Western Wall is open to all men and women. I give my sincere apologies and the apologies of my staff to Linda and hope you return soon to visit the Western Wall.”

Women of the Wall on Monday said in a Facebook post under the heading “Breaking News” that Linda was prevented by security guards from entering the Western Wall plaza because she was wearing a kippah. She refused to accompany a guard to the nearby police station and instead was escorted to the taxi stand outside the Kotel, Women of the Wall said.

The rabbi expressed his regret over the “atmosphere of suspicion and distrust” at the Kotel as a result “of the struggles of Women of the Wall; an atmosphere that is harming many worshippers, Linda among them.”

Woman denied entrance to Western Wall for wearing kippah


Security guards prevented an American woman from entering the Western Wall plaza because she was wearing a kippah, the Women of the Wall group said.

On Monday, guards and officials from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation asked the woman, identified only as Linda, who “authorized” her to wear a kippah, Women of the Wall said in a Facebook post under the heading “Breaking News.”

The woman, who recently arrived in Israel to study at a Conservative yeshiva, refused to accompany a guard to the nearby police station and instead was escorted to the taxi stand outside the Kotel.

“We at Women of the Wall are OUTRAGED by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation for treating anyone who is not ultra-Orthodox as a suspect and a criminal, and getting to determine that despite a court ruling, women cannot enter the Kotel to pray if they have a kippa, tallit, tefillin or Torah scroll,” the group said on Facebook.

An April 2013 Supreme Court ruling acknowledged women’s right to pray at the Western Wall according to their beliefs, claiming it does not violate what has come to be known as “local custom.”

Women of the Wall gather at the Western Wall at the start of each Jewish month for the morning prayer service. The group’s members have clashed frequently with staff from the office of the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel, headed by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, and with police for holding services that violate the rules enforced by the office.

Hebrew word of the week: Kippah


Kippah is from the root  k-f-f, which means “to bend,” as in zoqef kfufim, “(God) raises those who are bent” (Psalms 145:14,  and prayer), closely related to k-f-y “to compel, force, invert, subdue.” So, kippah is “a bent shape, dome,” as in kippat shamayim “celestial sphere.”

Other related words: kaf  “palm / hollow of the hand/foot,”  the letter kaf (sofit), “(table)spoon”; kappit “teaspoon”;  kappah “palm branch”; kfafot “gloves”; kaffiyyah “(Arab) headdress.”

The Yiddish word yarmulke seems to be from the Turkish (via Polish, Ukrainian) yagmurluk, meaning “rain cover.”


Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

At seder, don’t bite the hand that serves


At your seder, you just might be the Egyptian.

Consider what it means to be an Israelite and an Egyptian in the Passover story. The Israelites have no power and are at the whim of those they serve. And what about the Egyptians? They have all the power, but their morality is tested by how they treat the Israelites in their midst. The Israelites are slaves — the Egyptians control their lives and behavior and direct their choices.  

In many Jewish homes at Passover seder, the meal will be served by non-Jews who are there to help. Of course, they are not slaves, but they are subject to the desires, directives and the treatment of those who are in “power” — those who pay them, determine their work and who choose how to speak to them. We have been embarrassed at times by the way some people treat those who work for them. How often have you seen people be unkind to the very people who feed them, clean their homes, even take care of their children? In such a case, who is the Israelite and who is the Egyptian?

When confronted, the normal excuse for such mistreatment is to say, “But I’m paying them.” So we should be clear — no amount of money entitles one to be a jerk. Such behavior is not a monetary but a human decision. Thoughtlessly injuring another is an aveirah, a transgression.  This does not diminish as income rises. 

Who has not been at restaurants where the server, working hard and trying her or his best, is treated shamefully by the patron?  Such behavior is not only wrong but profoundly un-Jewish.  

Recall the story of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter who observed his students wash their hands with copious amounts of water before a meal to demonstrate their piety. When he used a very small amount and was asked why, he explained that he was thinking of the servant who had to go fetch the water from the well, and whose work was made harder by their extravagance. 

All of us have the urge to edit the tradition to suit our preferences. But anyone who reads the prophets and the rabbinic tradition that follows knows that a special burden to goodness falls upon us when dealing with those who work for us or who are poor.  When Amos thunders at the people that they “buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals,” he goes on to ask, in God’s name, “Shall not the earth tremble for this?” (Amos 8:6,8.) No amount of Pesach cleaning will wipe away the stain of abusing someone in your service.  

In addition to the demands of simple humanity, there is an element of self-interest.  I am more careful to be nice when I am wearing a kippah in public. I try not to do anything that would discredit Jews, like get angry or act ungenerously. People who work in Jewish homes or serve at Jewish functions observe the behavior of those whom they help, so it is especially gratifying to hear positive comments, as I often do, about how well people are treated at Jewish institutions or how welcome they feel in Jewish homes. And it is just as painful to hear the opposite.  Communal pride in our tradition and our people should lead us to be particularly careful about being kind to those who work for us.

Most of the people who work at synagogues and Jewish institutions are treated well and speak kindly of their employers. Most of the homes I have visited and the people with whom I interact are, in fact, very solicitous of those who help them. I know of Jewish families that have supported others for citizenship and paid for schooling for their housekeepers’ children, or who donate clothes and other items to their employees. Such actions are befitting the rabbinic description of Israel as a “compassionate people and the children of compassionate people.”

In the Torah, midwives Shifrah and Puah are singled out as heroes. Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, is deputized to find a wife for Isaac. In Chasidic stories, Elijah would often appear as a wagon driver or even a beggar. Judaism is filled with images of people whose lives are in service and whose souls are exalted. 

Family functions are often fraught. Emotions can run high at holiday time, and nerves are often on edge. There is a temptation to strike out at the people who cannot strike back. And I’m sure Egyptians, when they gave Israelites an extra slap, made excuses similar to those you hear today: “Ach, I’ve had a really tough day.” But of course there is never an adequate excuse for mistreating someone who is subject to your wishes.  

Jews know better than to confuse power with dignity. In our long history, many people have had power over us, but far fewer have borne themselves with dignity. The prophets sought to teach us that we cannot escape responsibility for our own actions toward any other human being.  There is no gradation in being an image of God; the Torah begins with Adam, not Abraham. All human beings are equally God’s children — the one who serves the soup no less than the one who asks the Four Questions.

The seder is a time to teach our children.  As all parents know, what we teach our children comes from our actions more than from our words. If we talk about the deliverance and goodness of God and how we were saved from being under the power of others, then turn to yell at someone who works for us, or keep them until late hours without extra pay, or do not thank and acknowledge them as if they were invisible, our children will see it. They will learn that it is OK to victimize others if we pay them, or if they have no recourse. That is not the lesson of Passover, or what we need to teach our children, the scions of our good fortune. 

This lesson is not limited to Passover, of course. It is equally applicable at the carwash and the supermarket, the hair salon and the restaurant.  At a bookstore with a friend a few weeks ago, a salesperson complained to me that some customers yell at him for charging 10 cents for a paper bag, which is the law and not even a bookstore policy. He thanked us for understanding and being nice about it. I felt good, and not only because my friend and I were both wearing kippot. 

Although kindness matters in every situation, there is a special mandate on Passover, when we celebrate our freedom and understand the peril of being in another’s power. “Let all who are hungry come and eat” sounds ironic if the person who is serving you has not eaten. 

So please, this Passover, when you are in the position of an Egyptian, remember to act like an Israelite. If Elijah does come, he will be proud of you.


Rabbi David Wolpe is senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Westwood.

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.

Childhood abuse victims name Mendel Tevel as alleged abuser


Sitting with his back hunched, his wife by his side and a kippah on his head, a 23-year-old bearded Orthodox man nervously told a gathering of parents at a private residence near Pico-Robertson that a young man named Mendel Tevel had sexually abused him when he was 14. Tevel now lives in Los Angeles and is believed to have worked in recent months at JEM, a Jewish youth center in Beverly Hills.

The alleged victim did not tell the group his name and demanded that all cell phones be placed in a separate room — and although he told the Journal his full name, because of the sensitivity of the subject he asked that it be withheld from this story. This was his first public accounting of his alleged abuse, talking to about 40 community members on the evening of Aug. 5. As people trickled into the home of David and Etty Abehsera, he began his story:

When he was a 14-year-old student — in around 2004 — at the since-closed Shterns Yeshiva in upstate New York, Tevel, then a mentor at the school, initiated what was at first a friendly relationship with the speaker. Tevel, who is now about 30, was around 21 years old at the time.

At first, the man alleged, Tevel offered simply to be the student’s exercise partner. But eventually, he said, Tevel came up with extreme ways to motivate him to work out harder, including repeatedly whipping him with a metal coat hanger, which he said lacerated his skin and caused bleeding.

He claimed that as the relationship grew, Tevel would crawl into bed with him at night, inappropriately massage him, and rub his clothed body against the boy’s. He claimed Tevel also bent him over and spanked him when he refused to immerse himself in what was sometimes a very cold outdoor mikveh (ritual bath). These incidents occurred multiple times, the speaker said.

“He wasn’t exactly trying to hide the fact that he had an erection at the time,” the alleged victim told the gathering, describing his incidents with Tevel in the mikveh.

“I was a very naïve 14-year-old, but something just didn’t feel right, so I cut off ties with him.”

Because these acts occurred in New York, where the statute of limitations for charging someone with sexual abuse expires when the victim turns 23, the State of New York would not be able to press charges against Tevel based on this man’s testimony alone. The man said he currently lives in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights but on the night he spoke he was in Los Angeles on vacation.

Following this accounting, three more people alleging to be victims of Tevel shared their stories with the Journal via telephone from Brooklyn, where Tevel was born and raised, and where he lived before he moved to Los Angeles in 2012. All of the alleged victims interviewed by phone, when asked, told the Journal they do not know personally any other people who say they’ve been abused by Tevel. The instances described by those who spoke with the Journal took place as early as around 1995 and as recently as around 2004.

Tevel himself did not respond to multiple phone calls to his personal cell phone, nor to voicemails, text messages and e-mails from the Journal over several days. Searches of both civil and criminal public records did not reveal any convictions, or any closed or pending charges against Tevel in either New York or California.

Two local residents, both of whom asked that their names not be made public, identified Tevel as recently working at the JEM Center. One said that Tevel and his wife, Bracha, were directing JEM’s Hebrew High School Program as recently as one month ago. On the Web site jewishcommunitywatch.org, Tevel is labeled as the “counselor/director of JEM center.”

Another person confirmed seeing Tevel at a farbrengen (a Chasidic celebratory gathering) on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, at JEM. The gathering included both adults and children. 

On the morning of Aug. 13, just before press time, Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, director and founder of the JEM Center, answered one of many phone calls made by the Journal to him over a period of three days. Illulian said he was not able to immediately comment because he was dealing with a recent death in the community. 

Illulian’s daughter, Bracha, married Tevel in 2012. Bracha also did not respond to multiple attempts to reach her.

The accounts from the four alleged victims who spoke with the Journal provided vivid details of both sexual and physical abuse. Two of the alleged cases occurred in Brooklyn, N.Y. The other two occurred at Machane Menachem, a since-closed Chabad-Lubavitch sleepaway camp in Lackawaxen, Penn., where two former staff members have confirmed that Tevel worked in 2001. 

All four of the alleged victims currently live in Brooklyn, and each asked that their names not be made public.

One alleged victim, now 25, who spoke to the Journal on the phone from Brooklyn, described an incident indicating that Tevel’s abuse might have begun at a very early age. The 25-year-old said that when he was 6 or 7 years old, his family lived near Tevel’s family in Brooklyn.

The alleged victim said that Tevel, then 11 or 12, would go to the basement of his home multiple times per week with him, lock the door, tie him down, remove some or all of his clothing, and whip him (he does not remember with what).

“One thing I do remember very clearly is that it was very painful, and saying ‘Ow’ a lot of times,” the 25-year-old told the Journal.

“I had just a T-shirt on and socks,” he continued. “Of course, pants and any sort of underwear, that was gone.” He said that this continued for several months.

The alleged victim, who was raised an observant Jew, said he has since attended therapy for years, on and off. It was not until he was 19 or 20 that he opened up to his therapist about the incidents. He said that he is no longer particularly observant. 

A third alleged victim said that when he was 11, likely in 2001, he was a camper at Machane Menachem. Now 23, he said that Tevel, who was likely about 18 at the time, was a counselor at the camp, and worked closely with the campers.

“I was on my [bunk’s] front porch and he called me to the side of the pool,” the alleged victim said during a phone interview with the Journal. “He started smacking me on my bum with a pingpong paddle.”

He said that although “he didn’t make much of it in the beginning,” when Tevel began smacking him harder and tried to pull down his pants, he asked Tevel, “What are you doing?” Tevel’s response, according to the alleged victim, was that he “brushed the whole thing off.” No further incidents followed. 

A fourth alleged victim who spoke with the Journal is currently 21 years old. He said that when he was about 9 and Tevel was about 18, he was a first-time camper at Machane Menachem. One day, he alleged, Tevel brought him into a sports equipment room. 

As another person watched the door, the 21-year-old man claimed, Tevel bent him over his lap and smacked him on the rear with a pingpong paddle. He then pulled down his bathing suit and continued smacking him.

This alleged victim, who is also no longer observant, said that when he grew up, he would become very anxious when he would occasionally see Tevel walking in the streets of Crown Heights.

According to Pennsylvania law, both of the alleged victims from the sleepaway camp would be able to press charges, should they choose to do so, until they turn 50.

Allegations of sexual abuse by Tevel first became public in October 2012, when Meyer Seewald, the New York-based 24-year-old founder of Jewish Community Watch (JCW), posted about him on the Web site’s “Wall Of Shame,” after multiple alleged victims came to Seewald to accuse Tevel of sexual abuse.

JCW, which regularly publicizes information about suspected sexual abusers within the Jewish community — mostly in Crown Heights, where Seewald lives — currently lists 40 people on its Wall Of Shame. The Journal confirmed that neither Seewald nor JCW has ever been sued for libel or defamation regarding its publicizing of accused abusers. 

That review process includes personal interviews with multiple alleged victims and what appears to be a thorough investigation process. Following that, JCW will only post a suspect if its board unanimously agrees that the person is a child predator. JCW has a database of about 200 suspected predators that it is still investigating.

In one instance, JCW posted the name and a photo of a man, Daniel Granovetter, on its Web site after he was mistakenly charged by New York authorities with abuse when a student accused him, only to later retract the accusation. 

The authorities dropped the charges, and JCW removed Granovetter from its Web site, but the damage to his reputation had been done. 

In June, though, Granovetter penned an op-ed on chabadinfo.com commending JCW for its work, saying that Seewald should continue to post the names of people charged with abuse in order to protect children who could become victims in the time between the arrest and possible conviction.

Seewald claimed to have spoken with at least four more people alleging to have been victims of Tevel, but none of them would speak with the Journal. 

Refusal to go public with sexual abuse accusations, Seewald believes, is a common problem in the Orthodox community.

Seewald, who was at the Aug. 5 gathering, said that in his two years of running JCW and speaking with hundreds of victims, not one had ever told his or her story publicly to so many people.

Ben Forer, a local Orthodox Jew who is also a district attorney for Los Angeles County, wrote a public letter praising JCW’s “impeccable review process before exposing any predators.” (In speaking with the Journal, Forer said he was speaking only as a concerned community member, and not in any way on behalf of the district attorney’s office.) Rabbi Avraham Zajac, a local Orthodox rabbi, also said he respects JCW’s process. “I trust the methodology of Jewish Community Watch,” Zajac said. “The biggest thing is keeping our children safe.”

Forer was at the Aug. 5 gathering; he said that from his experience, “people don’t want to believe” allegations of sexual abuse.

“Families come out in support, in every community, in support of the predator, no matter what the evidence is,” said Forer, who currently specializes in technology-related crimes but has previously prosecuted sexual abuse cases.

In 2012, not long after Tevel’s arrival in Los Angeles, a local Orthodox Jew, Danny Fishman, briefly met Tevel on Shabbat morning at a local synagogue. Fishman said he did not know at the time about the allegations against Tevel. 

“I met him,” Fishman told the Journal. “He came across as personable and charming.”

Tevel has also been known to occasionally attend other synagogues in Hancock Park and Pico-Robertson.

A statement posted late last week on JEM’s Web site addressing the recent controversy surrounding Tevel did not mention him or any of the specific allegations against him, but stated that “JEM Center wishes to reassure the community that every precaution has been taken to resolve the concerns and bring this matter to a closure.”

The statement continued: “The local authorities have been contacted and are thoroughly investigating all issues that have been raised (and if needed action will be taken).”

JEM has surveillance cameras in all areas of its building, the statement continued, and no rooms or offices in the building are allowed to be locked.

Lt. Lincoln Hoshino of the Beverly Hills Police Department confirmed on Aug. 13 that it is conducting an investigation involving the JEM Center. He declined to say whether Tevel is involved in the investigation. 

Toward the end of the alleged victim’s account on Aug. 5, the former Shterns Yeshiva student explained why he came forward.

“It actually did take a lot for me to come out here and speak,” he said. But when he heard that Tevel is working around children in Los Angeles, he felt he had an obligation to do something.

“He [Tevel] has damaged a lot of people,” the man alleged. “He cannot be around schools; he cannot be around the community.”

With anger in his voice, he expressed his frustration with what he sees as the Orthodox community’s preference to not bring such cases into public light.

“Keeping it close-knit is not going to help,” the alleged victim asserted, his voice rising. “Keeping it close-knit is what the Jewish community has done for years.”

If you have concerns about possible instances of abuse in your community, you can e-mail us at abusetips@jewishjournal.com. Tipsters’ names will be treated with confidentiality, as requested.

Crowdsource your Simcha


When Amanda Melpolder began planning her wedding to Jeff Greenberg, she hoped the ceremony would be unlike others.

Melpolder had become involved in an independent minyan in Brooklyn after converting to Judaism several years ago, and she and Greenberg wanted their wedding this month to reflect the prayer group’s community spirit and sense of do-it-yourself camaraderie.

Friends were asked to lead prayers and narrate the signing of the ketubah, or marriage contract. Melpolder, a chef, solicited recipes from guests that would be bound in a souvenir cookbook. Assignments were given to friends based on personalities and interests.

“Since our Jewish community is one that we created and are actively part of, it made sense that our wedding would be the same theme, with people leading different parts of the ceremony,” Melpolder said.

Such participatory approaches to wedding planning might seem like a feature of the information age but may be just the latest incarnation of an older Jewish tradition.

“The word ‘crowdsourcing’ is a new word for an old thing,” said artist Nahanni Rous, who creates custom chuppahs, or wedding canopies.

“We are pretending that we just invented this idea of the shtetl. It’s like everybody would come to the wedding, and that was how a community got together to celebrate.”

In other words, it has always taken a village. It’s just that now the village looks quite different.

Based in Washington, D.C., Rous often incorporates crowdsourcing into her work, such as asking friends to submit fabric swatches.

Her chuppah-making career began, appropriately enough, at her own wedding. She and husband Ned Lazarus, who met in Israel and married in 2004, had two ceremonies, in Jerusalem and New Hampshire, to accommodate friends in far-flung locales. Each guest was asked to bring fabric that was pinned to a sheet at the wedding.

“We had people from every region of Israel and the Palestinian territories at the ceremony. We had everything from a kippah with a Magen David knitted on it to a Palestinian flag to a piece of someone’s wedding dress and a map,” Rous said. “It was a really beautiful hodgepodge.”

Since then, Rous has worked with couples to create custom chuppahs, incorporating everything from traditional Jewish symbols to quotes from poets such as e.e. cummings and Pablo Neruda. Some of her clients aren’t even Jewish but like the concept of the chuppah.

In some cases, crowdsourcing is a way to make guests feel more involved in a ceremony, but it can also be a way to make logistics a little easier for the bride and groom.

When Caroline Waxler and Michael Levitt married last summer, they came up with a Twitter hashtag for their wedding guests. Waxler, who runs a digital strategy company, knew her tech-obsessed friends would be tweeting photos from the ceremony and reception.

With the hashtag #waxlevittwedding, she was able to find them easily.

“When you’re making a commitment in public to one other person, it’s kind of also a reminder that in your life you are supported by people, not just by one other person,” Rous said.

While crowdsourcing methods can make family and friends feel more involved in the wedding, Melpolder admits that she may have other reasons for making the big day a little more social.

“I really hope someone hooks up at our wedding,” she said. 

Honoring Daniel Pearl with music


“Open your mind, and you will see the garden of the world.” Fifth- through eighth-grade students from New Horizon School, a Muslim day school in Pasadena, sang these words loudly and in unison from the stage of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, while a boy in the audience, whose head was covered in an oversized kippah, played air-guitar to the rhythm of the song.

Sixth-grade students from Saint Mark’s School, an Episcopalian school in Pasadena, recited the choral praise song “Seek Ye First” in near-perfect pitch. “Ask it and it shall be given unto you  …  seek and you shall find,” the students sang, accompanied by piano, while Ruth Pearl, mother of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, held up her iPhone from the synagogue’s front row, filming the performance.

Kindergarteners through third-graders at Weizmann Day School, a Jewish school in Pasadena, threw their hands up and down, to the right and to the left, as they sang the Hebrew words for “north,” “south,” “east” and “west” from the folksy song “Ufaratz’ta.”

Finally, students from all three schools came together. Standing in several rows on the steps of the synagogue’s bimah, they sang the words, “From a distance, God is watching us” — approximately 150 Jewish, Muslim and Christian students singing Bette Midler’s hit “From a Distance” in unison.

Held on Oct. 12, the concert paid tribute to the memory of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter and musician who was killed in 2002 by terrorists in Pakistan. Part of the Daniel Pearl World Music Days, Friday’s performance brought together Jewish, Muslim and Christian students in Pasadena, and was one of approximately 1,300 concerts honoring Pearl in 53 countries worldwide. The tributes will continue through the first week of November. Now in its 11th year, Daniel Pearl World Music Days strives to show how music can be a conduit for cross-cultural understanding, peace and tolerance. 

This interfaith concert drew nearly 300 attendees, including parents and grandparents of the performers, teachers, community leaders and Pearl’s parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl. The father read a poem he’d written, “Shooting Stars,” saying that, like music, shooting stars are “short-lived and leave no trace,” except in the hearts of those paying attention.

Judea Pearl pointed to the significance of having students of different faiths come together, and by doing so, how they were modeling themselves after his son, who made it his life’s work to connect with people of different faiths. “It’s very important [for the students] to think they have something in common, something culturally in common, and they have an image of a person who upheld these ideas, and they can sort of connect these ideas of mutual respect with the faith of a person,” said Pearl, a UCLA professor, president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation — a nonprofit founded by Pearl’s family and friends — and a Jewish Journal columnist. 

The performance featured all 73 of Weizmann’s students; 27 New Horizon students and 49 Saint Mark’s students. The New Horizon students took the stage first, performing two songs, including “Sing, Children of the World,” by Canadian singer-songwriter Dawud Wharnsby, and “Water Love,” written by New Horizon music teacher Daniel Gomes and Heba Alfi, New Horizon’s librarian.

The Saint Mark’s students followed with a string ensemble of cellists and violinists performing “Sahara,” by composer Richard Meyer, and a chorus of singers performing “Seek Ye First.” Afterward, the Weizmann students performed “Amen,” by Chamutal Ben-Ze’ev and Moshe Datz,  and “Ufaratz’ta,” by Noam Katz. 

Weizmann song leader and performing arts director Wendy Bat-Sarah led the Weizmann group. “Louder!” Bat-Sarah said, strumming her acoustic guitar as she stood in front of the students.

At the close of the concert, everybody, the audience included, sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” with students surrounding the audience — Weizmann students to the left; New Horizon to the right and Saint Mark’s students in the rear. 

Daniel Pearl World Music Days launched in October 2002, during the month of Pearl’s birthday, which is Oct. 10. Pearl would have turned 49 this year. Designed as an awareness-building program, the theme is “Harmony for Humanity.” 

The concert was attended by Mayor Bill Bogaard of Pasadena and Mayor Robert Harbicht of Arcadia, Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center; Cantors Ruth Berman Harris, Paul Buch and Richard Schwartz; Jason Moss, executive director of The Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valley; and Narda Zacchino, executive director of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

The concert marked the ninth consecutive year the three Pasadena faith-based schools have united in remembrance of Pearl. According to Judea Pearl, it is the only Daniel Pearl World Music Days concert in the Los Angeles area that features children from different religious groups coming together. 

To prepare for the show, the students work with their respective school’s music instructors, and each school rehearses separately. Before the concert, the students learn about Pearl in age-appropriate ways — who he was, what he stood for and why he was murdered by terrorists. 

Interaction between the students is limited for the concert, but it has led to outgrowth programs, including a pen-pal program between New Horizon and Weizmann — with students from the schools also sharing learning activities and field trips, said Weizmann Day School head Lisa Feldman. The students often end up at the same high school and through this have gotten a head start on becoming friends. 

“This one concert — this annual concert— is a ripple effect all through the lives of some of these kids as they grow into adulthood and form their own opinions and own friendships,” Feldman said.

 The students may be too young to truly grasp what happened to Daniel Pearl, said Ron Shatzmiller, whose son, Jonatan, is a first-grade student at Weizmann. 

“I think at the age he’s at,” said Shatzmiller, “he can just get out of it that we have Muslim friends and we have Christian friends.”

In Scandinavia, kipah becomes a symbol of defiance for Malmo’s Jews


Across Scandinavia, the kipah is becoming a symbol of Jewish defiance.

On Sunday, about 70 Danish Jews took a double-decker bus from Copenhagen on a 10-mile bridge across the Strait of Øresund, on the Baltic Sea, to go to Malmo in a show of solidarity with the embattled Jews of that Swedish city. All the men on the bus wore kipahs, a rarity in Scandinavia.

Last December, a small group of Malmo Jews violated security protocol by keeping on their kipahs on the street after attending synagogue, according to Fredrik Sieradski, a spokesman for Malmo’s 700 or so Jews, and then made a regular habit of it every few weeks. New marchers join every time.

And in August, hundreds of people from across Sweden went on public “kipah walks” in Malmo and Stockholm.

It’s not just in Scandinavia. In early September, a flash mob wearing kipahs gathered in Berlin after a rabbi and his 6-year-old daughter were attacked. The yarmulke-clad crowd included not just Jews but Christians, Muslims, local celebrities and politicians.

But in Scandinavia, where the Jewish communities of Denmark, Sweden and Norway are relatively tiny and used to keeping a low profile, the shift to public demonstrations against anti-Semitism marks a turning point. Sunday’s bus trip marked the first time that Scandinavian Jews from another country had come to Malmo to express solidarity. Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city and the site of some of the country’s highest profile attacks on Jews, has been a focal point for the demonstrations.

“The community here used to keep a low profile, but there’s a feeling that we are lost if we do nothing now,” Sieradski told JTA.

He attributed the change in Malmo to “a slow build-up” of frustration since 2009, when Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza sparked anti-Israel and anti-Semitic demonstrations in the city, leaving Jews with the feeling that they were under threat and without sufficient protection from the authorities.

“This build-up has finally reached a critical mass,” Sieradski said.

The need for Jewish response became impossible to ignore in 2009, community leaders say, when Israeli tennis players showed up to compete in the Davis Cup, which Malmo was hosting. Anti-Israel demonstrations erupted and quickly morphed into violent, anti-Semitic riots.

Some 50 to 100 anti-Semitic incidents occur here annually, according to police and community statistics. Many of the perpetrators are first- and second-generation Muslim immigrants, who make up 30 to 40 percent of Malmo’s population of 300,000. Sieradski says that wearing a kipah in Malmo can lead to insults, harassment and vandalism.

Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, a Chabad envoy to Malmo, has been targeted many times since coming here in 2004. Last week, someone carved the word “Palestina” into his new car.

“I had no idea it would be like this before I came here, and I probably wouldn’t have come had I known,” said Kesselman, who has four children. “But it would be very bad for the community if I left.”

Making matter worse, Malmo Mayor Ilmar Reepalu has advised Jews who want to be safe in Malmo to reject Zionism. Though he has condemned anti-Semitism, Reepalu has called Zionism a form of “extremism” comparable with anti-Semitism, said the Jewish community had been “infiltrated” by anti-Muslim agents and denied that Muslims perpetrated the attacks on Malmo Jews.

During her visit to the country in June, Hannah Rosenthal, the Obama administration’s special envoy for combating anti-Semitism, said that Reepalu had made “anti-Semitic statements.” Malmo under Reepalu, she said, is a “prime example” of “new anti-Semitism,” where anti-Israel sentiment serves as a thin guise for Jew-hatred.

Reepalu’s unsympathetic stance has been among the key factors that have galvanized Scandinavia’s Jews. Aboard the bus on Sunday from Copenhagen to Malmo, the mayor was a subject of frequent condemnation.

Finn Rudaizky, a Copenhagen alderman and former leader of Denmark’s Jewish community, said he felt there was “a Jewish duty” to show the Malmo community it was not alone.

“Leadership especially matters in conflict situations,” he said. “Reepalu’s approach is complicating the situation.”

“Reepalu needs to be fired,” said Anya Raben, a young Jewish woman from Copenhagen. “He is a problem, and the fact he still holds his post is scandalous.”

Following the 30-minute drive through the tunnel and bridge that since 2000 have connected Copenhagen to Malmo, the passengers disembarked at Malmo’s main Jewish cemetery and attended a Holocaust commemoration ceremony.

One of the headstones there is a testament to the strong bonds that connect the Jewish communities of Copenhagen and Malmo, despite cultural and language barriers. Born in 1943, Golde Berman was 4 months old when thousands of Jews fled Nazi-occupied Denmark to neutral Sweden en masse aboard boats in a famous rescue operation. Sweden’s Jewish communities mobilized to absorb the refugees from Denmark by sharing their homes and food and raising funds. Gothenburg’s Jewish community gave up some of its offices in favor of a Danish school for the refugees’ children. Many refugees stayed in Malmo. 

Little Golde, however, was in a hospital on the day of departure, Oct. 1, 1943, and her parents left her behind. She died in December. The Danish Red Cross transported her small body to her parents in Malmo, where she was buried.

It was Golde’s brother-in-law, Martin Stern, who spearheaded the solidarity visit from Copenhagen and covered most of the costs.

“Now it is the Danish Jews’ turn to return the favor, when the Jews of Malmo are in their hour of need,” Stern said.

Some Danish Holocaust-era refugees were on the solidarity bus from Copenhagen.

“Fortunately, the attitude in Malmo was different when I was a little boy,” Allan Niemann, the president of B’nai B’rith Denmark who was in Malmo in exile in the 1940s, said in a speech at the cemetery. “If Mayor Reepalu were in place then, I’m not sure I would be standing here.”

Sunday’s bus trip was just the latest Jewish demonstration in Sweden. Earlier this month, some 1,500 people rallied in support of Israel in Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden’s two largest cities. Many of the demonstrations have been organized using social media and other grass-roots strategies.

Community members say their newly vocal stance is beginning to have an effect. Malmo’s handling of anti-Semitic incidents has improved noticeably since the rallies and solidarity actions began, Kesselman said.

He also credited Rosenthal’s visit to Malmo in April, during which she met with Reepalu, prompting Malmo police to follow up on complaints of verbal anti-Semitic abuse. Suspected perpetrators whose identities are known are now brought in for questioning, he said.

“The decision by the political leadership of our community to step up the pressure has yielded yet another change,” Kesselman said. “Now people stop me on the street to say they support us Jews, to encourage us to continue to stand up for our rights. It changed the balance.”

Marine Le Pen: Wearing kipahs should be banned


French right-wing politician Marine Le Pen said she supports a ban on wearing kipahs in public in addition to a ban on Muslim headscarves.

“Obviously, if the veil is banned, the kipah [should be] banned in public as well,” the French daily Le Monde quoted Le Pen, leader of the National Front, as saying in an interview published on Friday.

Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-Islamist party long has supported a ban on Muslim headscarves, niqabs and burkas. France’s minister of education, Vincent Peillon, said Le Pen “was fanning the flames of fundamentalism” with her statements. “She is the main fundamentalist,” he said.

The president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, said Le Pen has, “once again, exposed herself as being unworthy of the mainstream French political space.

“Her suggestion of a ban on wearing a kipah in public takes us straight back to the times of state-sponsored anti-Semitism under the Vichy regime,” he said. “Any sane politician will disqualify these comments as total madness and profoundly insulting to the French ideals of freedom of expression.”

Founded in the 1970s by Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen's father, the National Front has established itself as France's third-largest political party. In 2002, it made it to the second round in the presidential elections, clinching 17 percent of the vote.

Md. student asked to defend wearing kippah


A Jewish student at a Maryland high school was asked to prove that he wore a yarmulke for religious reasons.

Caleb Tanenbaum, 17, was asked by the administration of Northwood High School in Silver Spring to provide a letter from a rabbi explaining why he wore the plain, off-white knitted kippah, Patch in Wheaton, Md., reported.

Caleb, an Israeli by birth, decided recently to wear a kippah, according to the news website.

Head games: Jordanians tell Israelis to keep out kipot


Israelis have been asked to leave their yarmulkes at the border when entering Jordan, an Israeli news site reported.

An Israeli businessman told Ynet that his yarmulkes were taken and put in a safe upon his entry into Jordan, with a Jordanian policeman telling him that it was for his own good.

Tefillin and other religious articles also are not allowed into the country.

Yossi Levy, the director of communications at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told Ynet that there were “disagreements with our Jordanian counterparts in regards to Jewish religious objects” entering the country.

“We receive a growing number of complaints by Israeli visitors who report of religious items being confiscated at the border crossing ‘for security reasons,’ ” Levy told Ynet. “They explain this by the need to protect visitors carrying ‘obvious Israeli identification means.’ “

There’s a Lot About Eilat That’s Hot


The shores of Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, are densely populated with sun-kissed foreigners from around the world. Here, on the crimson-colored shoreline hugging the Red Sea, everything appears uncomplicated and picturesque — exactly the way a resort town should.

But early on in the second intifada, which lasted from 2000 to 2005, the scene became too tranquil. In a region where nearly half the tourists came from abroad, particularly from Europe, traffic from foreigners dropped to near zero.

“Europeans were very important to Eilat, especially Northern Europeans. They had regular charter flights to Eilat, but this all stopped after the start of the intifada in September 2000,” said Ari Morris, Israel’s director of marketing for North America. “In the year 2001, it came to a halt.”

It was not only security-related fears, he said, but also a tendency to blame Israel for the violence.

In response, officials and business leaders mounted a massive push to make Eilat even more of a prime vacation destination for Israelis themselves. And last year, Israelis singled out Eilat as their favorite vacation city in a survey conducted by the Tourism Ministry.

But what finally spurred a turnaround was the discovery — or rediscovery — of Eilat by non-Israeli Jews. While Eilat’s livelihood was under attack, the Jews of Europe were themselves feeling embattled. Anti-Semitism was prompting many European Jews to abandon traditional holidays in North Africa, for example, in search of safer alternatives.

“Things changed for us in France,” said 60-year-old Yves Boutboul, a Tunisian-born Jew who lives in Paris. “You cannot go out of your home with a kippah anymore and feel secure.”

Boutboul and his family now spend half the year in France and half in Israel. He even bought an apartment in Ranana, a city situated just outside Tel Aviv. “We started coming here more often during the intifada because we felt it was very important to help the Israeli people,” he said while sitting down to a family dinner on the veranda of the Herods Palace Hotel. “For us, Eilat is really special.”

Morris, the tourism official, said the trend was unmistakable. “Tourism from France rose nearly 300 percent,” he said. “French Jews were coming here because of the anti-Semitism and also as a sign of solidarity. Without them, it would have been a tremendous crunch.”

At times, it seems the official language of Eilat, a city of 55,000, is in fact French. Ask any one of the French Jews lollygagging on the city’s main drag how they feel about Eilat and Israel, and you’re likely to get a quick effusive response.

“This city has gone through some fabulous changes over the years,” said Monique Ansellem, who first visited Eilat in 1967. “It’s getting worse in France. More and more of my family are actually moving here. I hope that when I retire in two years, I can make this place my permanent home.”

Eilat’s reputation as a haven from terrorism and its spate of music festivals, most notably the Red Sea Jazz Festival, also draw visitors. In recent years, the city has added a film festival, classical music festival and an underwater photography festival.

“Most resort towns are not working throughout the entire year, but here in Eilat we are. So we need to do as much as we can to keep upgrading the city,” said Yossi Ani, general manager of the Red Sea Resort Tourism Administration. “The festivals are really a demand that we created. We saw the popularity — the people who wanted it.”

The newest offering, a three-day chamber music festival, Classic Winter in Eilat, debuted in February.

Eilat is also known for what may be the world’s northernmost coral reef, which lies just offshore, and continues to be a popular attraction for divers.

One idea currently on the table is to make Eilat a gambling center in Israel. Currently, Israelis must leave Israel proper to gamble legally.

Tourist numbers to Eilat have increased 24 percent each of the past three years, officials said. Direct international flights have resumed to Ovda International Airport, located 40 miles north of the city. Air traffic is also picking up at Eilat’s city airport, which connects to Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov Airport.

Susan Schneorr, a 38-year-old French native, gave up her tourist status to become an Eilat resident working in the tourism industry. At her office on Eilat’s boardwalk, she markets day trips and package tours.

“Yes, Eilat was empty during the years of the intifada,” Schneorr said, “but I still came because this is the place I want to raise my children.”

It is still early in the morning, yet Schneorr’s phones are constantly ringing. “It is a small Garden of Eden here,” she said, grinning, “filled with Jewish people.”

” target=”_blank”>www.dolphinreef.co.il) offers a more family-friendly experience. Just 10 minutes by taxi from the center of town, this lush compound offers snorkeling and diving with dolphins, in addition to a handful of relaxation pools filled with salt, rain or seawater.

SHOPPING: A bonus of Eilat is its tax-free status, although some boutiques are still quite pricey. The promenade is chock full of fashionable boutiques with European and American duds. Be sure to make a stop at Le Boulevard, located in the Isrotel Royal Garden Hotel, for a wide selection of trendy boutiques, including L’Occitane and Tommy Hilfiger.

HOTELS AND SPAS: Check out the Herods Vitalis Spa Hotel, which caters to visitors serious about relaxing. The hotel’s “no cellphone” and “no children” policy really help to maintain a serene environment.

For a particularly atypical experience, check into the Orchid Hotel (

Putin Visit Stirs Conflicting Opinions


Eleven Things to Know Before You Go


Congratulations! You have been invited to the bar/bat mitzvah of a friend or family member. Now what? What are you supposed to do there? How do you act? Whether you are Jewish or not, the following is a brief guide to help you feel more comfortable at the worship service and enjoy the events as they unfold. It includes appropriate synagogue behavior, major sections of the service, the synagogue environment and service participants. Because customs vary from community to community, please contact the host family for further clarification.

General expectations for synagogue behavior include:

1. Dress

Guests at a bar/bat mitzvah celebration generally wear dressy clothes — for men, either a suit or slacks, tie and jacket; for women, a dress or formal pantsuit (depending on the congregation where the ceremony takes place). In more traditional communities, clothing tends to be dressier.

2. Arrival Time

The time listed on the invitation is usually the official starting time for the weekly Shabbat service. Family and invited guests try to arrive at the beginning, even though the bar/bat mitzvah activities occur somewhat later in the service. However, both guests and regular congregants often arrive late, well after services have begun.

3. Wearing a Prayer Shawl

The tallit (prayer shawl) is traditionally worn by Jewish males and, in liberal congregations, by Jewish females. Because the braided fringes at the four corners of the tallit remind its wearer to observe the commandments of Judaism, wearing a tallit is reserved for Jews. Although an usher may offer you a tallit at the door, you may decline it if you are not Jewish or are simply uncomfortable wearing such a garment.

4. Wearing a Head Covering

A kippah (head covering) is traditionally worn by males during the service and also by females in more liberal synagogues. Wearing a kippah is not a symbol of religious identification like the tallit, but is rather an act of respect to God and the sacredness of the worship space. Just as men and women may be asked to remove their hats in the church, or remove their shoes before entering a mosque, wearing a head covering is a nondenominational act of showing respect. In some synagogues, women might wear hats or a lace head covering.

5. Maintaining Sanctity

All guests and participants are expected to respect the sanctity of the prayer service and Shabbat by setting your cell phone or beeper to vibrate or turning it off, not taking pictures, not smoking in the synagogue or on the grounds and not writing or recording.

6. Sitting and Standing

Jewish services can be very athletic, filled with frequent directions to stand for particular prayers and sit for others. Take your cue from the other worshipers or the rabbi’s instructions. Unlike kneeling in a Catholic worship service — which is a unique prayer posture filled with religious significance — standing and sitting in a Jewish service does not constitute any affirmation of religious belief; it is merely a sign of respect. There may also be instructions to bow at certain parts of the service, and because a bow or prostration is a religiously significant act, feel free to remain standing or sitting as you wish at that point.

7. The Service: Try to follow the service in the siddur (prayerbook) and the Chumash (Five Books of Moses), both of which are usually printed in Hebrew and English. Guests and congregants are encouraged to hum along during congregational melodies and to participate in the service to the extent that they feel comfortable. During the Torah service (described below), the entire congregation is encouraged to follow the reading of the weekly Torah portion in English or Hebrew.

Major sections of the Shabbat morning service include:

8. The “Shema”

“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” This passage from the Book of Deuteronomy and the three passages that follow constitute a central part of each morning and evening Jewish prayer service. Probably the most important single sentence in the liturgy, the “Shema” is not a prayer but rather an affirmation of the unity of God.

9. The “Amidah”

“Standing Prayer.” The “Amidah,” a series of prayers recited while standing in silent meditation, is the major liturgical piece of every synagogue service throughout the year. On a weekday, the “Amidah” contains prayers for the physical and spiritual well-being of the one praying as well as of the entire community of the people of Israel; on Shabbat we praise God for the joy of the Shabbat and the rest that we enjoy. It is perfectly acceptable and even desirable that people recite the “Amidah” in English, and worshipers are also encouraged to pray from their hearts if the printed words do not speak to them.

10. The Torah Service

Following the “Shema” and the “Amidah” is a transition from prayer to study. The primary study text is from the Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses. This text has been written on the parchment of the Torah scrolls by a specially trained scribe.

The Torah is divided into — and read in — weekly portions, according to a prescribed calendar, so that the entire Torah is read in the span of one year. The cover and accouterments of the Torah scrolls recall the priestly garb of ancient Temple times.

Usually the rabbi, and sometimes the bar/bat mitzvah child or another congregant, delivers a d’var Torah, a word of Torah, that comments on the weekly Torah reading.

Once the Torah reading is over, another person — usually the bar/bat mitzvah child — chants a portion from the prophetic writings of the Torah. The haftarah (concluding teaching), is usually chosen to reflect a theme or literary allusion in the Torah portion. The purpose of the haftarah is not only to provide an opportunity to teach from a different section of the Bible, but also to assert that prophecy serves to reinforce the laws of the Torah.

11. Mourner’s “Kaddish”

Although there is no mention of death in this prayer, the “Kaddish” is recited at the end of all worship services by family members who have lost a loved one in the past year or who are observing the anniversary of a death in years past. Despite sorrow and pain, the mourner rises to declare continuing commitment in praising God’s name, to which we all respond, “Amen.”

Reprinted from

The Mayor’s Eyes and Ears


Jennifer Stein wears two hats at City Hall. You could say one of them is a kippah.

The recent Stanford University grad, 23, is the South Valley Area director in Mayor James Hahn’s Office of the Neighborhood Advocate. She is also Hahn’s liaison to the Jewish community.

The Neighborhood Advocate position features a well-defined set of responsibilities. Stein meets with homeowners’ organizations, chambers of commerce and community members from South San Fernando Valley neighborhoods like Sherman Oaks, where she lives, and Encino, where she grew up. She explains and offers advice on the city’s various constituent services, and represents neighborhood concerns to the mayor.

The Jewish liaison job comes with responsibilities of a similar vein, but not nearly so well-defined. Who, after all, represents Los Angeles Jews? What are Jewish concerns?

Stein says she has been in touch with Jewish Federation President John Fishel, and also works closely with The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance. “I’d like to bring more of L.A.’s Jewish community into contact with the mayor’s office,” she says.

Karen Wagener, 55, who served as Jewish liaison under Mayor Richard Riordan from 1999 to 2001, describes the responsibilities of the position as “the eyes and ears” of the mayor in the community, by talking to the mayor about issues relevant to the community and conveying the mayor’s concerns to the community. For example, Wagener helped a Valley community obtain an eruv; she also helped The Federation deal with some zoning problems.

Hope Warschaw, a Jewish community activist and former Hahn campaign worker, described the liaison job in simpler terms. It’s someone “with a name and a face that you can call with a wide range of concerns — traffic problems in front of a synagogue, getting the mayor to a solidarity rally,” she said. “Mainly, it’s a face.” Warschaw described Stein as “very enthusiastic — she will always get you the answers you need.”

Stein’s qualifications for her City Hall jobs stem more from her lifelong political experience than from her Jewish background. Though she recalls attending synagogue services as a child at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and later at Stephen S. Weiss Temple, “I didn’t really get involved with my Jewish heritage until college,” she says.

When she arrived at Stanford, one of the first things she did was to stop by Hillel. “Some of the first people I really bonded with were the Jewish students, and that really began my Jewish connection,” she says.

Politically, however, Stein has been connected all her life. Her father, real estate developer Ted Stein, has been heavily involved in local politics for decades; he once even ran for city attorney — against Jennifer’s current boss, Hahn. After losing that election to the future mayor, Ted Stein has served the city on various commissions, including a stint as president of the Harbor Commission and his current post on the Airport Commission.

Jennifer’s mother, Ellen Stein, is serving her second term as president of the Board of Public Works. Jennifer Stein notes, “I was raised around politics all my life. I remember as a child going to victory parties for city council members. I guess I caught the bug there. There’s nothing better than trying to make your community better.”

Stein’s most important concern as Jewish liaison, she says, is ensuring the free flow of communication and comfort of the community. “Sometimes people feel frustrated that they have no one to turn to in their government,” she says. “I want to make sure that members of the Jewish community always feel comfortable in Los Angeles.”

After only two months in her new position, Stein says she is still working on establishing contacts, especially now, following her recent move from downtown City Hall to Van Nuys offices.

“I’m working right now on doing my own outreach, but the Jewish community — not just leaders, but any people with concerns about the city — should feel free to contact this administration.”

Questions or concerns of the Jewish community may be
addressed to Jennifer Stein at (818) 756-7924, or jstein@mayor.lacity.org .

Campaign Kippah


The red-and-white lettering that reads GORE-LIEBERMAN 2000 is already on signs, bumper stickers and buttons. But thanks to Marsha Greenberg of Stamford, Conn., vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman has it stitched on his kippah.

Greenberg crocheted the blue campaign kippah for Lieberman when the news broke that Vice President Al Gore asked Lieberman to be his running mate.

Greenberg got the kippah to Lieberman through her friend, Harold Bernstein, who is a cousin of Lieberman. Bernstein gave it to one of Lieberman’s aides when the candidates were in Stamford recently.
It was an instant hit with both Lieberman and Gore, but Gore immediately claimed it for himself. So Greenberg, who has crocheted kippot since she was a high school student, made another one for Lieberman.

The vice-presidential candidate isn’t the first high-profile politician to wear one of her creations. The late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin also had one. The kippah design she made for the race for the White House has been getting a lot of attention. The Associated Press circulated the story of the kippah and The New Republic wrote about it.

“Five thousand years of Jewish history and never has one yarmulke caused so much commotion!” said Greenberg. She has received offers upward of $75 for it.

Whether or not the Democratic ticket wins in November, Greenberg knows there is historical value to the kippah. The National Museum of American Jewish
History in Philadelphia wants one. She also plans to donate one to the Smithsonian Institution for its exhibition on Presidential campaign memorabilia.

This story appears courtesy of The Connecticut Jewish Ledger.

A Modern Orthodox
Top Ten

Within hours of the official announcement of Sen. Joe Lieberman as a contender for the vice presidency, people started sending their “Top Ten” lists about a Jewish veep over the Internet. Early on, Marsha Greenberg composed a distinctly Modern Orthodox version: “Top Ten List of Ways the White House Would Change Under Lieberman.”

10) The State of the Union address would end with an appeal.

9) Air Force One grounded on Shabbat and yom tovim, and seats reconfigured to allow space for minyanim.

8) Young Israel of Pennsylvania Avenue due to open across the street.

7) Supreme Court Justices’ robes to be routinely checked for shatnes.

6) Mohel appointed surgeon general.

5) Traditional Easter Egg Hunt on White House lawn replaced by bedikat chometz.

4) Israeli diplomats visiting White House for state dinners will have to preorder treif meals or risk having to eat glatt kosher with everyone else.

3)First lady’s inaugural gown to be ordered with matching snood.

2)National prayer breakfast to conclude with ecumenical learning of “Daf Yomi.”

1)Secret Service to confer with local Orthodox rabbis to discuss feasibility of enclosing the White House and Capitol in an eruv.

Sherry Shameer, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Selling AWACS to China


Chinese President Jiang Zemin donned his black kippah and followed in Pope John Paul II’s footsteps to the Western Wall last week, confident that the world’s biggest atheistic state would soon receive a $250 million airborne surveillance system from Israel Aircraft Industries on schedule. Despite intense American pressure to cancel the deal, the signs are that he will receive the other three or four AWACS he also wants to buy.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak promised President Bill Clinton during their Washington summit in early April that he would review the sales in the light of American claims that the advanced technology would change the strategic balance if and when China tried to regain Taiwan by force. Clinton, like Defense Secretary William Cohen before him, argued that American pilots, coming to Taiwan’s aid, might be shot down because of the Israeli radar.

What Barak was doing was ducking his head and waiting for the waves to wash over him. As he said twice during a joint press conference with Jiang Zemin: “We attach a great deal of importance to our relations with China and to our credibility.” However much Israel cherishes its special relationship with Uncle Sam, Barak is calling Clinton’s bluff. For that, as seen from here, is what the American bluster amounts to.

Israeli observers are convinced that the threats of aid cuts or a weakening of Israel’s American safety net are nothing more than election propaganda. Why else would Washington force the issue now, rather than four years ago, when it was first advised of the transaction?

The Republicans, they say, are playing the Chinese card. Therefore, Clinton, on behalf of Al Gore, has to show that his administration is not going soft on Beijing. Their reading was reinforced last week when members of congress used the lever of American United Nations debt repayments to lobby for Israel’s upgrading in the international body. Nor is Israel persuaded that China has any intention of invading Taiwan.

The AWACS deal is worth a fortune to Israel, in both monetary and diplomatic coinage. The surveillance plane is a joint Israeli-Russian product. Israel supplies the technology, Russia the airframe. But Israel’s share of the $250 million price tag per plane is $200 million. That means a lot of export earnings and a lot of skilled jobs, especially if China ends up buying five planes. And none of the technology owes anything to American research or generosity. It’s all blue and white.

At the same time, the very fact that Jiang Zemin spent six days on a state visit to Israel (floating in the Dead Sea as well as contemplating the Wall) is itself a transformation. China, with its 1.3 billion people, is the last remaining Communist power. Until diplomatic relations were established in 1992, it could be relied upon to support every anti-Israel resolution in every international forum. Israel was defined as an outpost of imperialism, the Arabs as a downtrodden people fighting for their freedom.

All this is changing. Israel has things that China wants — above all, advanced military technology. The AWACS are neither the first nor the last of the items on Jiang Zemin’s shopping list. In return, China, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has softened its old-fashioned Marxist hostility.

Speaking at the Knesset, the Chinese leader recalled 1,000-year ties between his people and Jewish traders, as well as China’s hospitality to Jewish refugees during World War II. “This,” he said, “laid a solid foundation for the establishment and growth of bilateral ties. These managed to grow on a healthy and rapid track, and gratifying results have been achieved.” Ignore the history, that’s the present.

Israel is fortified in its resistance to United States demands to cancel the AWACS deal by memories of the American supply of similar spy planes to Saudi Arabia nearly 20 years ago. Jerusalem and its Jewish friends in the states lobbied hard then against the sale, arguing that it would change the strategic balance in the Middle East. Even if Saudi Arabia did not join in a war, it could use the American AWACS to gather real-time information for its Arab brothers. Israeli pilots (sounds familiar?) would pay with their lives.

The United States retorted that AWACS was an essentially defensive weapon. As columnist Barry Rubin asked in the Jerusalem Post, if it was defensive then, how come it is suddenly offensive now?

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