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.


Table for none?

It was to be the restaurant that would change kosher dining in Los Angeles.

In December 2006, the Prime Grill, a branch of the popular New York kosher steakhouse, opened its doors in Beverly Hills promising a new experience in kosher dining. “There’s never been a kosher restaurant like this in Southern California,” Samuel Franco, the restaurant’s director of operations, told The Journal at the time. “New York has always been ahead of L.A. in certain ways. With the Prime Grill’s opening, L.A. now catches up.”

But little more than a year after it opened, rumors spread that the luxurious restaurant on Rodeo Drive was about to close.

“There is absolutely no truth to this rumor,” general manager Mikael Choukroun said in January, noting that the restaurant was adjusting its menu to more moderate pricing.

But by February, the doors were closed and a message on the voicemail said, “The Prime Grill regrets to inform that due to rainwater damage from the recent storms, we will be temporarily closed.”

Numerous calls to the New York restaurant management (including owner Joey Allaham) have not been returned, and the Beverly Hills locale now appears closed for good, its phone line disconnected.

And the Prime Grill is not the only kosher restaurant that has closed in recent weeks. Mamash, an Asian fusion restaurant in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, also closed in March, after opening only last December. And Pico Boulevard’s 15-year staple, the Yemenite restaurant The Magic Carpet, has closed, as well.

Why are all these kosher restaurants closing? What does it take to make a successful kosher restaurant in Los Angeles?

Prime Grill’s problem, many say, was the prices. The owners seemed to recognize the problem and began offering lunch and happy hour specials toward the end of the restaurant’s short run. Others say it was the location — off the “strip” (Pico-Robertson).

But the Prime Grill’s downfall also might have been the image presented as its selling point: its outsider status.

“The bottom line is that owners have to be there — you can’t manage a kosher restaurant from New York,” said one successful kosher restaurant owner who asked that his name be withheld. “Restauranting is a passion — it’s not just a business.”

New York cannot be duplicated in any market — and that includes the kosher restaurant business, said Errol Fine, owner of Pat’s Restaurant, a high-end kosher venue on Pico that has outlived others for the last 15 years.

“The market is different here,” he said.

“I think it’s more common to go out to dinner in New York than it is in L.A.,” Fine said, because New York has 10 times the kosher population. “There’s a saturation point. Maybe there’s not enough population to support all these kosher restaurants that have sprung up — there’s only so much of a kosher pie that gets divided. People have to make their choices.”

Most agree that the kosher restaurant business in Los Angeles is not easy.

“It’s a really hard game — the community is a really hard community to satisfy,” said Warren Bregman, an architect and contractor who was one of the three partners at Mamash. “Overheads are the killer — that’s what killed Prime Grill, too.”

He said location wasn’t the problem — Mamash was situated on the south side of Pico Boulevard near Doheny Boulevard — but finances were. The restaurant practically closed before it opened, the partners having underestimated costs. And kosher restaurants cannot survive on the kosher clientele alone, Bregman said.

“If you’re going to do high-end you have to do more corporate involvement,” he said. They’d planned to attract the Fox Studios and Century City crowd in their more than 160-square-foot space.

Every restaurateur seems to have a unique economic plan to make it work. Mamash’s owners thought they would draw the corporate clientele; Prime Grill hoped for celebs like Paris Hilton and Larry King. The Magic Carpet’s Nili Goldstein believes it’s all about catering.

“A kosher restaurant has to establish a catering business,” she said, because it has to be closed on Friday evenings and Saturdays — the main profit days for non-kosher restaurants.

“You lose Friday and Saturday, you’re left with Sunday, and you take away Jewish holidays — it doesn’t leave much for the owner to survive,” she said.

When one of her three business partners died three years ago, she cut down on catering — which should ideally be 15 percent of the business.

“There are a lot of non-licensed people operating catering businesses,” she said — non-restaurant owners who provide food at shul and private events — cutting into restaurant profits.

But the poor economy, difficult parking situation and increased competition also made her eager to sell. With the Pico-Olympic parking proposal, which would limit evening parking and hurt businesses like Magic Carpet, Goldstein decided it was time to get out. She sold her business to an Indian restaurant.

Even as she did, Delice Bakery opened its own restaurant across the street. It was perfect timing.

Julian Bohbot had been trying to buy the lot next to his French bakery since he opened Delice in 2001. He finally secured a 40-year lease and opened the Delice Bistro in March. The French steakhouse is centered around a faux Eiffel Tower that disappears into a circular crevice painted to look like the sky, and the dim lighting and close seating — fitting 80-85 people — give the place a bustling but cozy feel. It’s haimish — warm; kind of like the two restaurants Bohbot ran in Paris.

Although it’s too soon to tell whether Delice Bistro will be a success, in the weeks before Passover the restaurant was full. Bohbot said he pays attention to the menu — and prices.

“I am the cheapest kosher restaurant in the U.S.,” he claimed, noting that his steak is priced at less than $30.

Chef Akasha adds fresh twist to holiday traditions

Akasha Richmond is a self-trained chef and artisan-style baker who has been catering events in the Los Angeles area for the past 20 years.

A tall woman with dark hair and blue eyes, she bears a striking resemblance to Barbra Streisand, for whom she worked as a private chef.

Richmond said some of her fondest memories were made at Streisand’s home, where she selected fresh vegetables from her garden for a healthy menu.

Richmond’s dream was always to have her own restaurant, and now with the support of her husband/business partner, Alan Schulman, that day has arrived. And Culver City’s buzz-worthy Akasha Restaurant is celebrating its first Passover this year with a special second-night dinner.

Akasha’s regular menu includes vegan dishes, low-fat breads, healthy desserts and organic wines. She is also strong in her beliefs for energy efficiency, green building material, locally grown produce, fair-trade coffee and waiters in hemp aprons and organic cotton jeans.

Richmond is also the author of “Hollywood Dish,” a cookbook that includes tales of Hollywood’s passion for healthy lifestyles and stories of her favorite cooking experiences: holiday dinners for Billy Bob Thornton, catering parties for Pierce Brosnan, producing events at the Sundance Film Festival and working as a private chef for many Hollywood stars.

She also loves to reminisce about watching her grandmother prepare Passover meals for the family and whoever happened to drop in. She said her bubbe made gefilte fish using three kinds of fish: pike, whitefish and carp. She would grind the fish by hand in an old cast-iron grinder attached to the kitchen table, the same type of grinder she used to make her chopped liver.

Richmond went on to explain that her zayde was in charge of the horseradish, which he bought fresh and would grate before adding beet juice for the red color (back before the days of bottled horseradish).

Her other grandmother made the matzah balls for the chicken soup and great potato pletzlach (rolls with poppy seeds, chopped onion and kosher salt), using mashed potatoes, while Richmond’s mother, Judy, made a main course of roasted meat, chicken or duck with potatoes, carrots and onions. She recalled that it was the children’s job to make the charoset.

Richmond’s plans for the Passover meal at Akasha, which will include a seder service, will be a little different than what she grew up with.

“The restaurant is a perfect venue for a family seder,” she said, pointing to the large open space that could easily hold 100 people. She plans to donate a portion of the proceeds from the dinner to MAZON — A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Although Richmond grew up with Ashkenazi dishes for Passover, she loves the flavors of the Middle East, and her Passover menu will feature both creative and traditional family dishes: charoset, Moroccan gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzah balls, and Middle Eastern roast chicken made with fruits and spices and served with leek pancakes.

For the Passover dessert, she has developed a chocolate torte, garnished with fresh raspberries and a raspberry sauce, which can be made into individual tortes and served with a plate of chewy almond macaroons.

Moroccan Fish Balls With Tomato Sauce

Fish Balls
1 1/2 pounds skinned whitefish fillets or wild salmon fillets
1 small onion, grated
1 large egg
1/3 cup matzah meal
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Lemon wedges for serving
Flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups water

Chop the fish in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in the onion, egg, matzah meal, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and cilantro. Mix well, cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.

Add the garlic and cook for one to two minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt and water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Roll the fish mixture into oval-shaped balls. Place into the sauce one at a time and add additional water if needed to just cover the balls. Bring to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until firm and the fish is cooked, turning each ball over once. Let cool in the sauce. Serve chilled with lemon wedges and chopped fresh parsley.

Makes about 20 balls.

Honey Glazed Chicken With Cherries and Apricots
1 whole chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds), rinsed and cut into 8 pieces or 4 large chicken breasts on the bone
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup minced shallots
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons kosher-for-Passover red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup dried apricots, cut in half
1/4 cup pitted green olives
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

Place the chicken in a large bowl. Season with the salt and pepper. Add the shallots, oregano, thyme, vinegar, olive oil, bay leaves, cherries, apricots and olives. Mix well and place in a storage container or plastic freezer bag and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken pieces on an oiled baking sheet or in a large oiled casserole dish. I like to tuck some of the fruit under the chicken so it remains soft, and I leave some exposed so it gets crisp. Spoon any remaining marinade around the chicken and drizzle with the honey.

Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast registers 170 degrees and the juices run clear when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature, sprinkled with the parsley.

Cozy Kosher Surf Shack — Observant Oasis in the ‘Bu

Joyce Brooks Bogartz’s look isn’t quite what you’d expect from the owner of a kosher restaurant. Adorned with brown and cream dreadlocks, the nearly 50-year-old proprietor of Malibu Beach Grill would at first glance seem to fit in better with customers sporting board shorts than black hats. But this post-punk Gidget is the kind of ‘Bu Jew who is as comfortable around Chabadniks as she is with surfers.

“Having a kosher place, you can only be so risqué in your appearance,” she said.

Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness. And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).

But the road to winning over the locals wasn’t easy.

Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.

“I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea,” said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator.
“For a year we were the walking dead,” she said. “I was sleeping four hours a night.”

Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.

To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn’t hurt, either.
The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta’am (flavor).

“It’s a small place, but it’s better than what we have in Philadelphia,” said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.

“They put an interesting twist on everything,” said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. “It’s different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It’s not just a plain burger.”

The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: “How does your grandmother do it?”

Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno.
Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994, she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, whose sign featuring a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.

Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette’s local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.

“My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it’s warm,” she said.
Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant’s catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.

“I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody,” she said.

Cozy Kosher Surf Shack: An Observant Oasis in the ‘Bu

Joyce Brooks Bogartz’s look isn’t quite what you’d expect from the owner of a kosher restaurant. Adorned with brown-and-cream dreadlocks, the nearly 50-year-old proprietor of Malibu Beach Grill would at first glance seem to fit in better with customers sporting board shorts than black hats. But this post-punk Gidget is the kind of ‘Bu Jew who is as comfortable around Chabadniks as she is with surfers.

“Having a kosher place, you can only be so risque in your appearance,” she said.
Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness.

And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).

But the road to winning over the locals wasn’t easy.

Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.

“I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea,” said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator.
“For a year we were the walking dead,” she said. “I was sleeping four hours a night.”

Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.

To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn’t hurt, either.

The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta’am (flavor).

“It’s a small place, but it’s better than what we have in Philadelphia,” said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.

“They put an interesting twist on everything,” said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. “It’s different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It’s not just a plain burger.”

The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: “How does your grandmother do it?”

Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno.
Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994 she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, which has featured a sign with a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.

Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette’s local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.

“My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it’s warm,” she said.
Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant’s catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.

“I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody,” she said.

Jewish Federation Raises $10 Million for Israel

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles recently announced that the organization has raised $10 million in pledges just three weeks after launching its Israel in Crisis Fund.

All of the monies raised will go toward supporting direct services to Israelis who have suffered during the recent crisis, including providing counseling for terror victims, aiding the elderly, disabled and other at-risk populations with intervention programs, and helping to underwrite the cost of sending thousands of young Israelis from the north to summer camps in safer parts of the country.
“This is a time to do two things,” Federation President John Fishel said. “If you feel like you want to or can, you should get on an airplane and stand in solidarity with Israel. Even if you can’t, it’s a time to respond by making a generous donation to the state of Israel.”

Fishel recently went on a mission to Israel. During a visit to the northern Israeli city of Naharya, he spent several hours huddled in a hospital basement while Hezbollah missiles exploded nearby.

The local Federation hopes to contribute a total of $15 million to United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of the nation’s federations that is coordinating the fundraising efforts.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has raised more than $100,000 for the AJC’s Israel Emergency Assistance Fund, also a national campaign. Like the Federation, 100 percent of the AJC’s proceeds go to Israel, said Saundra Mandel, the local chapter’s acting director. Local money has helped purchase two mobile
intensive-cardiac-care ambulances for Magen David Adom, Israel’s Red Cross, and 500 first-aid kits to bomb shelters, Mandel added.

Another organization, the American Friends of Magen David Adom, has raised $700,000 locally since kicking off a war-time campaign on July 12, according to Ellen Rofman, the group’s Western regional director. That money has gone toward purchasing ambulances and medical supplies, as well as toward testing donated Israeli blood for viruses and other requested items, she said.

To attract funding, Rofman said she has sent out e-mails to rabbis throughout Southern California, advertised in the Jewish press and contacted Jewish country clubs and private foundations. Given the needs of the Israeli people, she said the fundraising drive, named Code Red Alert, will continue until mid-October.

To make a donation to the Federation’s Israel in Crisis Fund, call 866-968-7333 or, visit

To make a contribution to the American Jewish Committee, visit

To make a donation to American Friends of Magen David Adom/ARMDI, call (818) 905-5099, or visit

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Spielberg Adds $1 Million to Relief Funds

Steven Spielberg is giving $1 million for relief efforts in Israel during the current conflict, with the initial $250,000 going to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Additional future gifts are earmarked for the liberal-oriented New Israel Fund and other relief organizations in Israel, Marvin Levy, the filmmaker’s chief spokesman, announced this week.

Spielberg’s is among the major gifts to the Los Angeles Jewish Federation’s special crisis fund and is being donated through his Righteous Persons Foundation, capitalized entirely through his personal profits, estimated at around $40 million, from his Academy Award-winning movie, “Schindler’s List.”

Fishel said that the crisis fund concentrates on alleviating the devastating effect of Hezbollah rocket barrages on northern Israel, particularly on children, the elderly and disabled.

In addition, Spielberg’s grant will be used to retrofit Haifa’s three hospitals with shatterproof glass and for emergency assistance to the main hospital in the hard-hit town of Nahariya.

The unspecified donation to the New Israel Fund will go for emergency assistance to communities in northern Israel through support of crisis hotlines, economic help and improved food distribution.

At the same time, another Jewish high-profile Hollywood personality is disbursing $1 million.

Barbra Streisand is giving that sum to former president Bill Clinton’s Climate Change Initiative, which seeks to create a consortium of major cities around the world to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Steisand recently announced plans for a concert tour in October and November, whose proceeds will go to organizations concerned with environmental, women’s health and educational issues.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

New Program Welcomes Learning Disabled Students to Day Schools

A year-old program for children with learning disabilities at Los Angeles Orthodox day schools has room for a few more kids for this September.

Kol Hanearim — Hebrew for all the children — started last year to meet the challenge of keeping children with learning disabilities in Jewish day schools. The children, who have all left or been asked to leave Jewish day schools, have their own class embedded in a host school. A special education teacher and trained aides teach classes in academic subjects as well as social and study skills.

“The unique thing about what we’re doing is the kids will develop a sense of belonging within the host school, and that will lead toward the class being integrated as much as possible within the host school,” said headmaster Rabbi Levy Cash.

The Kol Hanearim curriculum and schedule is designed to flow with the host schools, so that kids join their grade for classes like art, computer and physical education, and for prayers, lunch and recess.

Last year, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy hosted the first class of six fourth-graders, who are generally two to three years behind grade level academically and might also have behavioral issues. This year, in addition to the fourth- and fifth-grade class at Hillel, the program will offer a second- and third-grade class at Maimonides Academy, and a sixth- through eighth-grade class at Perutz Etz Jacob Academy. Each cohort will stay within the host school from year to year, so they can benefit from stable friendships and consistency of educational approach.

“There is a lot our kids can gain from their peers, and there is a lot their peers can gain from us being in the school,” Cash said, noting that the host schools have been welcoming and cooperative.

For information, contact (818) 536-9741 or e-mail

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor


Muslim Majority

Salam Al-Marayati’s apologetics miss the mark entirely (“Don’t Ignore the Quiet Majority of Muslims,” Feb. 17). In the wake of the mass violence throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia, it is impossible to argue that a small, extremist element, “a handful of reckless Muslims” in Al-Marayati’s words, is responsible for weeks of mayhem. Tens of thousands of rioters have rampaged, killed, and looted with governments either abetting or unable to control the violence. They are not a tiny fringe. And they are not reacting to alleged anti-Muslim bias in Europe, as Al-Marayati tries to argue.

Whether the rioters and their silent supporters represent the majority of Muslims or a sizable minority is debatable, but one conclusion is certain: They and the intolerant strain of Islam they adhere to threaten all who disagree with them.

Linda Abraham
Los Angeles

The op-ed of Salam Al-Marayati is a well-articulated presentation that falls short of explaining the “civilized response” of U.S. Muslims to the caricatures of Mohammad. It is difficult to accept the representation that “free thinking is a cornerstone of Islamic law” when the essence of Islam is submission to Allah and violations of fundamental Sharia law are dealt with by dismemberment, stoning and decapitation.

Most troubling is the accusation that racism and bigotry in Europe are disguised as freedom of expression or democracy. Yet, many instances of quite the opposite is being reported — Muslims who choose to live in their own communities, following Sharia law in their dealings with each other, even if it contravenes the law of their adopted countries.

Quiet Muslims will be ignored until they speak up loudly against the violent actions of their fellow Muslims.

Aggie R. Hoffman
Los Angeles

School Pesticides

Thank you for your wonderful and important article about Robina Suwol and AB 405 (“Parent Wins School Pesticide Battle,” Feb. 10). Suwol is a tireless worker for our children’s health. Unfortunately, you did not mention that she and others helped to establish the Integrated Pest Management Team in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). This team, which has been operating for about five years, is one of the leaders in the country in minimizing the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides in our schools. LAUSD should be recognized for their pioneering spirit.

Dr. Cathie Lippman
The Lippman Center for Optimal Health
Beverly Hills

Cartoon Controversy

Hurray for The Journal! Although lacking the courage to print the riot-provoking cartoons, the honesty of the stated reasons for not doing so was refreshing (“Drawn to Controversy,” Feb. 10). That’s more than can be said for most of the country’s major news outlets.

Kenny Laitin
Via e-mail

Jack Abramoff

Over three decades ago, Equity Funding Corp., a Century City-based financial conglomerate, was forced into bankruptcy due to massive fraud and embezzlement. The trustee surmised that approximately 60 employees (about 10 percent of the workforce) were involved in some level, in the illegal activities (“Sympathy for the Devil,” Jan. 27).

Twenty-two of them, mostly Jewish, pleaded guilty to participation in the conspiracy.

Although both my wife and I were employees, we were neither involved nor knowledgeable, primarily because we joined the corporation long after the fraudulent activities began. Nonetheless, I’ve often wondered what I would have done, had I been asked to assist in the illegal activities.

The point is that given the opportunity, many otherwise honest people are easily seduced into immoral activities that they sincerely regret after the fact. Most of Equity Funding’s conspirators are truly repentant.

Because of that experience, I truly believe that men like Jack Abramoff are sincerely remorseful. So while it is important that they pay for their crimes, it is also important we accept their apologies at face value and practice forgiveness.

Leonard M. Solomon
Los Angeles

Kosher Gourmet

I was impressed with the excellent article in The Journal titled, “Oxnard Kosher Dining is a Sur Thing”(Feb. 3).

I did however take issue with one of the authors’ comments: “Kosher gourmet sounds like an oxymoron.”

Apparently the authors of this article have never sampled the food at Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard, or sampled the cuisine of Pat’s catering or Brenda’s catering, among others. Far from being an oxymoron, kosher gourmet has been alive and well in Los Angeles for many, many years!

Martin Shandling
Los Angeles

Military Hitch

I was stimulated by the recent article on Rabbi David Lapp (“Rabbi Ending Long Hitch in Military,” Feb. 17), which focused on his ability to bring all major branches of Judaism to work together to support the needs of Jewish soldiers.

I am wondering whether there might be other important areas in which such cooperation can occur, and whether Rabbi Lapp’s experience might suggest how that cooperation can be brought about to the benefit of the entire Jewish community.

Barry H. Steiner
Department of Political Science,
Cal State Long Beach

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail:; or fax: (213) 368-1684


Oxnard Kosher Dining Is a Sur Thing

“Kosher gourmet” sounds like an oxymoron. And “Oxnard kosher” sounds like the nocturnal ravings of some deluded diner.

Well, get used to it. Gourmet kosher dining has arrived in the Southern California farming community of Oxnard. Paris, London, New York maybe. But Oxnard? Home of big-box grocery chains, Mexican cantinas and strawberry fields forever.

Oxnard’s population is more than 70 percent Latino, which could explain why Tierra Sur, the finest new kosher restaurant on this coast (or almost any other), has decided to open with a decidedly Mediterranean-Spanish flavor, with a large dose of Tuscany thrown in for good measure.

So what’s a nice kosher restaurant doing in a place like this?

Tierra Sur is found deep in the heart of Oxnard’s industrial section, 60 miles north of Los Angeles and a mile and a half off Highway 101, nestled in the confines of the Herzog Winery.

Herzog itself has come a long way. It began making kosher wine back in 1848 in the small Slovakian village of Vrobove, where Philip Herzog crushed grapes for Austro-Hungarian royalty. The winery moved to upstate New York in the early 20th century, and then switched to California, where it is now headquartered and makes surprisingly good wines.

The front of its $13 million state-of-the-art winery houses an elegant tasting room and gift shop, which features high-end table wear, glasses and gifts appropriate to the sophistication of the entire operation.

But the pièce de résistance is Tierra Sur, with its high-ceilinged dining room, flanked by tall windows draped in heavy silks, soft leather dining room chairs pulled up to intimate-sized tables adorned with white table clothes and Reidel crystal stemware. The lighting is subdued, and the color scheme — earth tones of soft olive, gold and browns — highlights the elegant Mediterranean menu.

All this décor is very nice of course, but what about the food?

It more than measures up to the ambience.

Chef Todd Aarons, who grills some of his best creations in an outdoor wood-burning fireplace on the patio, grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from the California Culinary Academy and cut his kitchen teeth at San Francisco’s Zuni Café. Two years later he moved to Savoy in New York’s Soho district. However, his cooking chops and tastes were really formed during a sabbatical in Tuscany, working at four restaurants and imbibing the culture of the Mediterranean table through his pores.

Following his return to California, Aarons went to a post-graduate program at Beringer Vineyard’s School for American Chefs in Sonoma, developing his skills in matching wine with food.

But it was while working for an Italian coffee company in Israel, and developing menus for Italian-Mediterranean restaurants in Netanya and Tel Aviv, that Aarons rediscovered his Jewish roots, fell in love with an Orthodox young woman and eventually became a ba’al teshuvah. Now the dietary laws of kashrut have became the most important element of his cooking.

Aarons commutes to the new restaurant from his home in North Hollywood, where he lives with his wife and three young daughters within the eruv.

Before his Oxnard venture, Aarons ran Mosaica, an upscale glatt kosher French Mediterranean restaurant in New Jersey. But the opportunity to create a restaurant from scratch with the financial support of the Herzog brand was impossible to resist.

So with sous chef Chaim Davids, Tierra Sur opened in late 2005 with kosher supervision by the Orthodox Union. But if you expect pickles, corned beef on rye, or matzah ball soup — fuhgeddaboudit.

Dinner with five-star service — on a par with a dining room in a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton — changes not just with the seasons but every evening according to the chef’s whim and the availability of the finest and freshest ingredients.

The Mediterranean influence is most visible in the appetizers, many of which come directly from the Spanish tapas or Greek mezes so beloved of the countries bordering that sea.

Platillos were small plates of delicate salt cod beignets; mushrooms a la Greque, cooked in truffle oil (one of the many instances where the absence of butter in the kitchen does nothing but improve the flavors); and a baba ghanoush that is fire roasted in the patio oven. The boudin blanc was a house-made veal-and-chicken sausage with roasted pink lady apples and turnips, and a corn and salt cod chowder was a warm starter on a foggy Oxnard eve.

The dinner entrees, which range in price from $25 to $44, include a farm-raised venison imported from the Mashgichim farm in Goshen, N.Y.; a delicate pan-seared wild Pacific king salmon with braised leeks, root vegetable Spanish tortillas and tarragon salsa; a marjoram and honey roasted chicken leg stuffed with porcini mushroom and chick pea ragout; and a pomegranate-marinated roasted lamb with sautéed broccoli rabe and fresh fava beans. Hannibal Lector eat your heart out. (A more modestly priced menu of soups, salads and sandwiches is available for lunch.)

Desserts like orange almond flan, a warm Mexican chocolate cake with caramel frozen custard and churros y chocolate are simple, inexpensive and delicious.

And, of course, the food can be accompanied by a dazzling selection of kosher wines — by the glass or by the bottle — from winemaker Joe Hurliman.

Already Tierra Sur, which also offers a wine-tasting menu, has been discovered by the Ventura dining cognoscenti and its private dining room has become a popular spot for everything from award dinners held by the Ventura’s Jewish Federation and its various offshoots to dinner celebrations for local corporate heavyweights such as Camarillo’s Amgen.

And the Orthodox are coming from miles around. There is always a fair sprinkling of men in kippot and women in wigs lining up to wash their hands at the small stainless steel sink hidden discreetly in a corner of the dining room.

On the night we went, customers included a couple who had driven up from Hancock Park, a family from the San Fernando Valley headed by a lady who doubles as the Jewish chaplain for the Los Angeles womens prison and a grandmother from Leisure Village in Camarillo who was treating her grandson and his wife from Philadelphia to a wedding anniversary dinner.

And in all cases, their food reviews were a unanimous thumbs up.

Tierra Sur Restaurant is located at 3201 Camino Del Sol in Oxnard. The restaurant is open everyday but Saturday for lunch, and Sunday, Tuesday through Thursday for dinner. For more information, call (805) 983-1560 or visit for links.

Sally Ogle Davis is a Southern California-based freelance writer. Ivor Davis writes a column for The New York Times Syndicate.


Getting Out Before Katrina Still Painful

It’s hard for Gideon Daneshrad to imagine himself on the receiving end of tzedakah (charitable giving). In the 30 years since he arrived from Iran to study computer science at North Louisiana University in Monroe, Daneshrad, 56, has built himself a full life — with four children, a lakefront home and New Orleans’ only kosher restaurant.

“Just close your eyes and imagine that you wake up in the morning and you are stripped of your identity,” Daneshrad says. “You are nobody. You are nothing. You have no money coming in. You don’t have clothes. You don’t have food. And all the people you knew are scattered around the world.”

Daneshrad and his family have been in Los Angeles for more than a week, and he still finds himself imagining this is all a nightmare.

“Every night I go to bed and think I’ll wake up and everything will be fine,” he says. “It just hurts so much.”

The Daneshrads left New Orleans early Sunday morning on Aug. 28, just before Hurricane Katrina came whipping through. They threw a few things in an overnight bag, expecting to be home in a day or two. Daneshrad didn’t take more cash than he happened to have on hand, put his three cockatoos up on a table to keep them dry, filled up his tank and loaded his family in the car.

Their lakefront house — recently remodeled with mahogany floors throughout and six blocks from the Lake Pontchartrain levee break — disappeared under 18 feet of water. Their restaurant, Creole Kosher Kitchen — the only kosher establishment in the French Quarter — is most likely a murky mess of rotting meat and shorted appliances.

The shul where Gideon was gabbai, Beth Israel, is under water, along with eight Torah scrolls. Their small, close-knit Orthodox community is dispersed.

It may be months before the family will be allowed to go back to survey the damage and collect anything salvageable — jewelry, photos that may have survived on the second floor, maybe the teddy bear their daughter keeps asking for.

“I am the dad,” Daneshrad says. “All of a sudden, the person who makes everything OK is powerless. I can’t do anything.”

He sleeps on the floor of his sister’s three-bedroom home in Reseda, when he can sleep at all. His wife, Rut, doesn’t talk much about what happened during an interview; she just sits quietly wiping away tears.

Their girls, ages 5 and 8, wake up with nightmares. They want to go home, and they don’t understand why their mother didn’t pack their stuff.

The Daneshrads opened the Creole Kosher Kitchen on Chartres Street near the convention center in November 2000. This year was the first the restaurant, which Zagat rated as “excellent,” turned a profit.

The restaurant was “a place for Jews who are suffering in New Orleans with all the nonkosher pork and shrimp and crawfish and lobster and crab — so they could get a little Creole taste,” Daneshrad says.

Daneshrad was obviously not among the thousand of subsistence poor in New Orleans; he had operated successful gift shops in the French Quarter before starting his restaurant. He knew he had money in the bank when he left town. But he also had business loans with the same bank — for a restaurant that no longer exists. And he had no flood insurance.

What he has left financially, if anything, will be worked out over the next months. And he hasn’t a clue what happened to the cockatoos.

When the family arrived in Los Angeles, Daneshrad’s youngest sister, who has three children and runs a day care out of her home, took in Daneshrad, his wife and his two daughters. The Daneshrads’ oldest son is at Brooklyn College, and their 15-year-old boy had already been attending the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Dallas.

The girls go to classes at Emek Hebrew Academy/Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks. Aside from covering tuition, the parent body, lay leadership and administration of the school has provided uniforms and shoes for the girls, cash and transportation, while coordinating with Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Center for help with long-term needs, such as jobs and a place to live.

“We may have lost all our belongings, but we didn’t lose what belongs to us, which is Judaism,” says a grateful Daneshrad.

His watch is still set on New Orleans time, but it would be hard to go back. He thinks that maybe the time is right to bring hand-rolled Andouille sausage, jambalaya and gumbo to Southern California, if he can find investors willing to stand behind a Creole Kosher Kitchen in Los Angeles.

His optimism is somehow still intact: “What keeps us going here, right now, is that God has given human beings the best gift of all — the ability to forget pain and sorrow.”


Kosher Stylin’

If we are what we eat, then at this moment I’m a big fat Gordo’s burrito with extra cheese. But I’m a veggie burrito because for the past several years, I’ve been cultivating my own brand of kosher. I like to call myself “kosher style.”

It’s a phrase that’s apt to confuse, so let me explain. No pork. No shellfish. No conscious mixing of meat and dairy. I’ll eat meat out, and though I pass on cheeseburgers at Barney’s, I wouldn’t ask Alice Waters to hold the butter in preparing my filet of beef ? la ficelle (assuming ficelle isn’t bacon). My theory: Unless I see dairy, it’s kosher enough.

I have plenty of friends who keep more strictly kosher than I do, but even some of them make exceptions — like bouillabaisse in France or lobster in Maine. I deviate when I’m the guest in someone’s home, and the options are slim — my rationale being that it’s better to not shame a host than to stick to my half-baked rules.

There are those who may cringe at my interpretation of Jewish dietary laws, but it’s not like I eat this way because the Bible tells me to. Nor do I see it as a mitzvah commanded by the God I’m not always sure I believe in. And it certainly isn’t because I grew up this way.

It began with a request from a Holocaust survivor who once advised, “Order kosher meals on airplanes, because the day you stop ordering them is the day they’ll stop making them.”

Forgoing regular airplane food was a sacrifice I could make.

I remember the first time a flight attendant called out, “Ravitz, kosher meal?” Heads of passengers whipped around to look at “the Jew,” and there I sat, donning my jeans, fleece and baseball cap, looking like any other 20-something American.

I didn’t want the attention, but when it came, I kind of liked it. That nasty little packet of excessively wrapped, overcooked — and yet simultaneously frozen — meat sparked conversation. People would ask me about my kosher meals: “I’ve always wondered what this is all about.”

I even got confessions: “You know, I recently found out my grandfather was Jewish.”

I felt like an ambassador for my people, called forth to enlighten flight passengers over stale rolls.

Soon I was changing the way I ate on the ground, pork products being the first to go. Then I struggled to relinquish shrimp, New England clam chowder, steamed mussels. California rolls were missed, until I found salvation in “imitation crab.” Then came the meat-and-dairy conundrum, which wasn’t that bad, barring the loss of chicken Caesar salads and my mom’s grilled bleu cheese steak. The mere thought of it still makes me drool.

At a crawfish boil I attended in Alabama this summer, people around me snapped off heads, slurping the prawns’ insides, while taking turns asking me questions.

“What, you don’t like this stuff?” “You allergic?” “What’s wrong with you?”

I stammered, embarrassed by the repeated calls of attention. “Well, you see, I sort of keep kosher.”

“What’s that?”

I blathered about split hooves and chewed cuds before someone interrupted, “But why do you keep kosher?”

I gave the best answer I could come up with: “Because it reminds me of who I am.”

In September, Sophia Café, a new kosher restaurant, opened on Solano Avenue in Albany, walking distance from my home. When I first spotted it, I was floored. How could a glatt kosher restaurant survive in a place like this? It’s not like the Bay Area is a bastion of religious observance.

I walked inside and got my answer.

There was the visitor from Los Angeles who said her son passed up going to Cal because kosher food was so hard to come by. There was the woman planning for observant houseguests from the East who will need places to eat. There was the father in an Orthodox family who kept thanking the owner for his restaurant’s presence.

The mashgiach, who oversees kosher practices in the kitchen, said it’s the only glatt kosher restaurant in the East Bay. He also said it wouldn’t survive on kosher eaters alone.

I have a feeling that a certain Holocaust survivor would have something to say about that. Lucky for me, the restaurant’s meat was served hot and without wrapping.

Jessica Ravitz completed her masters in journalism at UC Berkeley and currently is a staff writer at The Salt Lake Tribune. She can be reached at

East of Western — a Kosher Cornucopia


President Bush is declaring his hope for a Palestinian state loud and clear, and no wonder — it’s almost the price of entry to the alliance with Europe that he urgently wants to revive.

Some in the American Jewish community at first were uneasy about Bush’s push for the Palestinians, but Bush’s actions show that his commitment to Israel remains as solid as ever.

Just as Bush repeatedly has touted the benefits of a future Palestinian state at each stop along this week’s European tour, his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is determined to keep the discussion limited to the here and now when an international conference on the Palestinians convenes March 1 in London.

Rice will not allow the conference to consider the geographic contours of a Palestinian state, and instead will focus on how the United States and Europe can help the Palestinians reform a society corrupted by years of venal terrorist rule under the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“This will definitely have a more practical and pragmatic orientation,” an administration official said.

That’s fine with the Europeans, who are happy to see progress on a topic they once felt Bush neglected — even if, for now, the progress is rhetorical.

“This is probably good music to introduce the London conference,” a European diplomat said of Bush’s repeated reference to his hope that he will see a democratic Palestine.

Bush’s push for Palestinian empowerment at first alarmed some Jewish organizational leaders, who wanted to see if newly elected P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas would carry out Palestinian promises to quash terrorism.

Now that Abbas apparently is beginning to make good on his pledge — deploying troops throughout the Gaza Strip to stop attacks, and sacking those responsible for breaches — Jewish communal leaders are more on board.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week formally welcomed Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, and congressional insiders say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had a role in making a U.S. House of Representatives resolution praising Abbas even more pro-Palestinian then the original draft.

One factor that temporarily tempered Jewish enthusiasm was Bush’s determination to rebuild a transatlantic alliance frayed by the Iraq war.

Bush wants the Europeans on board in his plans for democratizing Iraq, corralling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and expanding global trade. But Jewish officials have felt burned in recent years by the Europeans’ perceived pro-Palestinian tilt and their failure to contain resurgent anti-Semitism.

Don’t get too exercised, cautioned David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We should be careful every time we hear the word ‘Europe’ not to get allergic,” he said. “Bush is trying to channel the Europeans to focus more on consensus issues.”

That may be so, but the consensus appears to be shifting. Bush’s calls for Palestinian statehood have never been so frequent or emphatic.

“I’m also looking forward to working with our European partners on the Middle Eastern peace process,” Bush said Tuesday after meeting with top European Commission officials.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair “is hosting a very important meeting in London, and that is a meeting at which President Abbas will hear that the United States and the E.U. is desirous of helping this good man set up a democracy in the Palestinian territories, so that Israel will have a democratic partner in peace,” Bush continued. “I laid out a vision, the first U.S. president to do so, which said that our vision is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. That is the goal. And I look forward to working concretely with our European friends and allies to achieve that goal.”

The day before, at another Brussels speech, Bush was applauded when he called for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlement building.

More substantively, Rice last week broke with years of U.S. policy and told Congress that $350 million in aid Bush has requested for the Palestinians — including $200 million to be delivered as soon as possible — will go directly to 34 P.A.-run projects, and not through nongovernmental organizations, a practice that had helped to lessen corruption.

The administration believes “that’s the quickest way to do it,” Rice said. “This is not the Palestinian Finance Ministry of four or five years ago, where I think we would not have wanted to see a dime go in.”

That stunned members of the House Appropriations Committee, where Rice was testifying. Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.) asked Rice to repeat her reply because he couldn’t believe it.

“You can understand why we’re a little tense about that,” he told Rice.

One reassurance for anyone skeptical of the administration’s plans: The Israeli government is at ease with the aid plans and is happy to sit out the London conference.

But while Israel welcomes European assistance with economic and political reforms in Palestinian areas, it looks askance at any European attempt to help with security. Israeli officials prefer to channel all security measures through the Americans, fearing that multiple security initiatives run by different partners will create chaos.

The Europeans have not entirely abandoned the idea, however. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary-general of NATO, said sending troops to keep the peace might yet be considered.

“If there would be a peace agreement, if there would be a need for parties to see a NATO role, I think we would have a discussion around the NATO table,” he said Tuesday on CNN.

While the Europeans are happy to limit discussions for now to such issues as infrastructure and democratic institutions, that won’t always be the case.

The London conference “will show the Palestinians that the world is getting things done, and now it’s their turn [to implement reforms],” the European diplomat said. “But you can’t pretend that what is achieved in London will last 25 years. We need to go on from there.”


Seattle — Kosher Mecca of Northwest

In the past, the dynamic and innovative Pacific Northwestern city of Seattle has been associated with Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, The Pike Street Market, The Space Needle and grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

Today, the city can boast of having a stunning new downtown library, a cutting-edge science fiction museum, state-of-the-art football and baseball stadiums and the Experience Music Project, a hands-on rock museum. And, a well-kept secret is that Seattle is the “kosher mecca” of the Pacific Northwest.

Previously, the thriving Seattle Jewish community of 40,000 was best known for having the third-largest Sephardic community in North America (after Los Angeles and New York). Many of Seattle’s 3,000-4,000 Sephardim (who came to the city in the early 1900s from Turkey and the Greek island of Rhodes) and many of the city’s Orthodox population, reside in Seward Park, which has two large Sephardic synagogues, the city’s main Ashkenazic Orthodox synagogue and an eruv. (Many Jews also reside in areas like Mercer Island, Bellevue and the North End of Seattle.) The existence of such a large Sephardic population may be one of the main reasons that there are so many kosher restaurants scattered throughout the city.

In fact, Seattle, which has a population of 2.5 million, has more kosher restaurants than the nearby cities of Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, Ore., combined. Seattle’s kosher establishments receive their kosher certification from the Va’ad HaRabanim of Greater Seattle, which among other things, takes care of kashrut issues and gives supervision on various kosher products and kosher establishments. (They also get a lot of calls from tourists wanting to know where they can find kosher restaurants and kosher food in the city.)

For a city of its size, Seattle has an incredible array of kosher restaurants to satisfy almost every palate. There is mouth-watering kosher pizza, pasta, soups and sandwiches at the Panini Grill Cafe near the Green Lake area; traditional Jewish fare and kosher baked goods at Leah’s in the North End; traditional fare can be found at Nosh Away and tasty North Indian Punjabi vegetarian kosher at Pabla Indian Cuisine — both in Renton; pareve Thai and Chinese Vegan cuisine at The Teapot Vegetarian House in Capitol Hill, a funky neighborhood near downtown Seattle; vegetarian Chinese food at the renowned Bamboo Garden in Queen Anne near Seattle Center; and kosher vegetarian Indian cuisine at Namasthe in Redmond.

Joy Somanna, the manager of Pabla Indian Cuisine, points out that business has increased since the restaurant (which is owned by Harnil Pabla) decided to become kosher at the request of the Jewish community of nearby Seward Park. Pabla’s also has a downtown location that the owner, J.S. Pabla, attempted unsuccessfully to convert into a kosher restaurant. But Pabla — who helped to establish the Renton location with his brother, Harnil — is hoping to open a kosher vegetarian Pabla’s outlet on Mercer Island in December. Seattle could have its eighth kosher restaurant before the end of 2004.

In addition to the many great kosher restaurants in the city, there are several bagel shops and coffeehouses under Va’ad supervision that offer kosher fare in Seattle. And, not only does Seattle have a wide variety of kosher establishments, but it also has a distinctive hechsher, or kosher symbol: a K-shaped Space Needle.

According to Rabbi Aharon Brun-Kestler, the executive director of the Seattle Va’ad who came from the Orthodox Union in New York, “Our standards are in line with other mainstream organizations and our supervision is generally accepted by outside agencies such as The Orthodox Union in New York.”

Ellen Kolman of the Seattle Va’ad noted, “You know that you’re getting a good hechsher, when you buy a Va’ad-approved kosher product from Seattle.”

Kolman, who is from Philadelphia (but came to Seattle with her husband from Northern California) is impressed with the number of kosher restaurants in Seattle.

“But even though there is a big Orthodox population in Seattle, kosher restaurants can’t survive with only Jewish customers because Seattle is not New York,” she said.

Daniel Cohanim, the owner of the Panini Grill Cafe, which opened in North Seattle in 1997, is also impressed by the number of kosher restaurants in the city. According to Cohanim, who is a native of Seattle, “There is a lot of co-operation between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in the Seattle Jewish community.”

This cohesiveness, he believes, may partially explain why there are so many kosher restaurants in the city. He also agrees with Kollman’s assertion that it would be difficult to survive solely with a Jewish clientele and attributes the success of his restaurant to the fact that he has been able to attract both a Jewish and non-Jewish clientele from the nearby trendy Green Lake area.

“Some of my non-Jewish customers don’t even know that they’re eating kosher food at a kosher restaurant,” he said, “but I’ve worked hard to make Paninis feel like a regular restaurant in order to attract a broad customer base.”

Cohanim also gets a great response from kosher travelers from New York and other eastern cities who are amazed by the quality of the food available at The Panini Grill and by the selection and quality of kosher restaurants in the Seattle area.

“We have some great kosher restaurants in the city, so food should not be an excuse not to travel to Seattle,” he said.

For more information about kosher Seattle, visit For more information about visiting Seattle, visit ” target=”_blank”>

A Match Made in Ratner’s Restaurant

"The Matzo Ball Heiress," by Laurie Gwen Shapiro (Red Dress Ink, $12.95).

Laurie Gwen Shapiro is not, repeat not scion to a matzah fortune, like the heroine of her hyperkinetic new novel, "The Matzo Ball Heiress."

"I’m the heiress, like, to a condo in Florida," the author and filmmaker said from her Lower East Side home.

But she is a self-professed yenta, which is why she honed in on waiters fawning over a 30-something woman at the now-defunct Ratner’s kosher dairy restaurant before Passover several years ago. Shapiro was having what she calls an "ironic blintz lunch" with fellow hipsters when she noticed a smartly dressed patron getting the royal treatment.

"The waiter said, ‘You don’t pay,’ so I turned around and said, ‘Why don’t you pay?’" recalled Shapiro, who is in her 30s.

Turns out the woman was a Streit, as in Streit’s matzah, as in every item on Shapiro’s Passover table, as in the matzah balls in Shapiro’s favorite bowl of chicken soup. In fact, the author had long been curious about the massive Streit factory several blocks from her apartment, which had remained in the neighborhood while others succumbed to gentrification. (The old Kedem winery had of late become a nightclub, Tonic.)

So her jaw dropped when she learned that the matzah heiress was as unfamiliar with the neighborhood as she was with her religion. In fact, the heiress had only made the trek from her Upper West Side home to help her cousins during the factory’s pre-Passover rush. She worked in casting, not matzah, and she didn’t know much about Judaism, although she was hoping to learn more by taking a class.

"I thought, ‘Here’s a woman whose name is all over my seder, and her family’s factory is still kosher, yet she personally had lost the connection," Shapiro said.

The irony inspired the author to invent her own, totally fictionalized matzah heiress, the unfortunately named yet sexy Heather Greenblotz.

The frothy novel appears to be riding the "chick lit" wave spurred by Helen Fielding’s "Bridget Jones’s Diary," Laura Zigler’s "Animal Husbandry" and others exploring women’s angst with sassy aplomb. The fictional Greenblotz, like many of these heroines, is single, lonely and horny, although she has an additional problem during the Passover season.

A century after her grandfather founded the world’s leading matzah company, Heather, a documentary producer, typically celebrates Pesach alone, with an extremely unkosher ham and cheese panini. But this Passover promises to be different from all other Passovers. Heather is being courted by two guys, one a non-Jewish playboy, the other a cute, Sabbath-observant cameraman. Meanwhile, The Food Channel has asked to film her family seder, which could boost waning matzah sales. The problem is, there is no Greenblotz family seder (her father, for example, is off in Amsterdam with his male lover) and Heather has to fake one between sorting out her complicated love life and Jewish identity.

The character is rueful, chatty and mordantly witty, qualities the author exhibited during a Journal interview last Friday. If Shapiro shares anything with Greenblotz, it’s her struggle to meaningfully reconnect with Judaism. While her great-grandfather was the mashgiach of Palestine, she grew up a "pork-eating Conservative Jew" and married an Australian lapsed Catholic.

"My daughter’s name is Violet Frances O’Leary," she noted. "Yet she will have a bat mitzvah, and it will be the ‘O’Leary bat mitzvah.’"

Shapiro described the roots of her intermarriage in her well-received first novel, "The Unexpected Salami" (1998), now being made into a movie. It’s largely based on the diary she began while working as a communications consultant in Melbourne, where she shared a flat with members of an aging rock band and fell in love with the bass player. Said rockers held up the chuppah at her 1997 wedding, which, to the Aussies, was "not 100-percent kosher," she said.

Also not-so-kosher was the subsequent novel she sent "Salami’s" publishers, based on her father’s experience as a widower helping to invent color TV. Apparently the editors were thinking more "Bridget Jones," because they asked Shapiro to come back with something more appealing to contemporary urban women.

"I felt there were many stories I could tell, so rather than getting angry, I agreed to think about it," she said.

Not long after, she met the matzah heiress and began her second novel, which was ultimately sold to a different publisher, Red Dress Ink. She’s now finishing a third book, "The Anglophile," about a linguist who obsesses over dead European languages and ignores her own Yiddish roots.

As the interview progressed, Shapiro reflected that writing about soul-searching Jewish women has been a way for her to strengthen her own Jewish ties.

"Of course, I hope I never go through that Barbra Streisand ‘Yentl’ phase," she said. "But this is really who I am."

Dining With Tolerance in Krakow

Soon after Alef Jewish Restaurant opened for business in Krakow’s Jewish quarter more than a decade ago, a gaggle of Polish schoolgirls wandered in during their lunch break. The anxious students asked the restaurant’s co-owner, Janusz Benigier, whether they served non-Jews.

Benigier recounts the story to support his theory that Polish anti-Semitism, which a recent survey measured at more than 50 percent, springs from a lack of knowledge rather than a dark place in the soul.

“There are cases of ignorance,” he said over dinner at his restaurant. “I hope we are one of the places that provides an education.”

A doughy, red-cheeked fellow with a brown mustache and an unfortunate Hiltler-esque haircut, Benigier acknowledges that Alef attracts few Polish customers. The restaurant caters mainly to tourists, some of the 200 Jews or so left in the Kazimierz neighborhood and the occasional Holocaust survivor in town to visit nearby Auschwitz.

“Survivors come here from abroad after years,” Benigier said. “They’ve wanted to avoid thinking of memories of their families, their children who perished. There are a lot of tears here.”

The candlelit dining room in the 17th-century merchant’s house does evoke a sentimental time — the “between the war” period, when 65,000 Jews helped establish Krakow as a thriving center of culture and commerce. Paintings and period photos hang on the walls, which are the color of braised celery. Portraits of Frida Kahlo, Mozart and local rabbis intermingle. Mismatched antique wooden chairs encircle white lace-covered tables, common in the homes of many a Jewish grandmother.

Distraught diners at Alef, named for the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, tend to brighten after sampling familiar food, sensitive service (the waiters, all non-Jews, learn about Jewish culture as part of their training) and a few shots of Shilivitz, a potent vodka made from, according to Benigier, “plums and fire.”

There were few diners during a recent visit to Alef, giving Benigier a chance to play host. He switched off Rosemary Clooney’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business” — the Klezmer band apparently had the night off — to give me a tour of his wall of fame. A framed note from Steven Spielberg, who filmed part of “Schindler’s List” at the restaurant, reads: “May your establishment survive for 2,000 years. The tradition is so important.” There’s a letter from Itzhak Perlman and a photo of Prince Charles–wearing a blue yarmulke embroidered with royal feathers. Last year, “Charles” — that’s how he signed the restaurant’s guest book, as if he were a supermodel — shared fruit juice and cake with Holocaust survivors during a photo-op at Alef.

It’s a shame HRH did not stay for more of a nosh. A meal at Alef, which is not kosher, proved a pleasure, aside from the unappetizing first course — carp Jewish-style. The hunk of white fish swims in a pond of viscous beige jelly studded with blanched almonds and black currants. Benigier noted with amusement that many Poles serve the dish on Christmas Eve, evidence of the comingling of cultures.

A better option is the rich wild mushroom soup with onions, a nice change from ubiquitous borscht. For a main course, I was tempted by the stuffed goose necks but instead opted for sticky but hearty cholent, a stew of beef, kidney beans, lentils and kasha that was traditionally eaten in Orthodox homes on the Sabbath. Religious law dictates that observant Jews refrain from using electricity on the Sabbath, hence the popularity of cholent, which can retain heat for hours. For dessert, I sampled a dense chocolate walnut cake, notable for its tempered sweetness.

After dinner, Benigier reflected on discovering his own Jewish roots as an adult. He lost two uncles in the Holocaust, but his family rarely discussed religion at the dinner table. “It was taboo during Communism. If you have to stand in a queue and fight for a meal, the interest in private affairs is not very critical,” he explained. His father fretted that his son would encounter harassment, or worse, by opening Alef, but so far the restaurant has been vandalism-free.

Encouraged by his success, Benigier plans to open an outpost of Alef in the middle of Krakow, which will test his hopeful hypothesis that anti-Semitism is waning in Poland. He has big plans: Jewish cooking classes, Jewish folk dancing and visions of tour groups spilling out of busses. Is he nervous about venturing out of the Jewish neighborhood?

“Not fear, just excitement,” he said. “I trust young people who are tolerant and looking [at the past]. A lot of them will find Jewishness in their own identities.”

For more information about Alef Jewish Restaurant, visit . Dinner for one runs about $20.

Kosher Eats, Tasty Treats

"We don’t do falafel or schwarma," said Avi Ben-Harouch while seated on a beige banquette in the elegant dining room of his new restaurant, Avi’s Bistro in Agoura Hills. Ben-Harouch is hoping that the Wok Seared Fresh Tuna and Linguine with Kielbasa Sausage that his restaurant serves will enable Avi’s Bistro to not only be the Conejo Valley’s answer to Pats in Pico-Robertson, but the kosher consumer’s Spago.

"We want the customers to know that there is more [to kosher food] than just hummus," said Alon Marer, the chef at Avi’s Bistro. "Our food is fresh, challenging and exciting, even using all the limitations that we have."

Avi’s Bistro is one of several new kosher establishments in the L.A. area that are endeavoring to provide the kosher community with a gastronomic experience that will cause them to reassess what they previously thought of as acceptable dining. The trend in most new kosher stores is that kosher is merely an adjunct, not the raison d’être of the place. From importing bakers from France to negotiating with tough shopping mall owners, proprietors are pulling out all the stops to ensure that their establishments are indistinguishable from — and possibly superior to — the non-kosher equivalents.

"I think this is the first time that there has ever been a kosher place in a mall in the Western United States," said Marty Katz about his new restaurant, the All American Sausage Co., which is located in the Grove at Farmers Market. "It was a very difficult process to get in there, but I think we did a tremendous thing for the Jewish community, because finally mall shoppers can sit down and eat at a place that is kosher."

The All American Sausage Company serves traditional American fare — hot dogs, fries, onion rings, chili — and it has a variety of sausages to choose from. Its location in the Grove means that shoppers who keep kosher no longer have to look longingly while other shoppers get a bite to eat in the food court. But the All American Sausage Company has not yet attracted the very religious crowd. "We are open on Shabbat," Katz explained. "We have to — that is the rule of the mall. But I studied the [Jewish] laws with Rabbi [Yehuda] Bukspan, our supervising rabbi, and it is actually permissible to be open on Shabbat if there is a non-Jewish partner who is in charge of that part of the business, which there is. But a lot of people don’t understand that it is permissible by Jewish law."

Katz is planning to erect a sukkah at the Grove for Sukkot, and he is also in negotiations to take his company nationwide by opening up in different malls.

"We stayed away from the Jewish type of operation," he said. "We wanted something more Americanized, and we wanted people to feel like they were eating in a non-kosher place even though it is kosher."

Across town on Pico Boulevard, two new kosher bakeries are trying their luck with imported formulas.

Shlomo Bibi, who opened Bibi’s Warmstone Bakery in July, said that the warmstone oven he brought in from Israel to make pita with zaatar, calzones and mini pizzas produces baked goods unrivaled in Los Angeles. "The warmstone is better than an ordinary oven, and it is also a beautiful oven — but you can’t get pita anywhere else like the pita we make here. It is really special," Bibi said.

Further down Pico Boulvard, the newly opened Delice Bakery is doing a roaring trade in high-quality kosher French baked goods. Delice is a bakery/cafe, started by Jacob Levy and Julian Bobot, who imported bakers from France to staff the place. Delice also imports many of the ingredients that it uses. Goat cheese and crème de marron (chestnut cream) from France, dulce de leche from Israel, real whipped cream from New York and Edam cheese from Europe. "We are using the best ingredients available on the kosher market," Levy said. "We pay four times as much for butter as a regular bakery pays, because we only use cholav Yisrael [milk products supervised by a rabbi], but our prices are comparable with French bakeries."

Although they cost more than cakes at other kosher bakeries, Delice’s $18 cakes are visually stunning, and their $24 fruit tarts are glorious cornucopias of fresh, delicious-looking produce. The croissants are flaky and buttery, and they have an array of gourmet breads — olive, sun-dried tomato, walnut and baguettes.

"We wanted to do something for the community that they can be proud of," Levy said.

"When people come to a restaurant, they should know it is kosher, and then they should put it out of their mind," Marer said. "We want to get people back to thinking about how the food was grown and the creativity of how the menu was put together. That is what should get them excited."

Avi’s Bistro is located at 30315 Canwood St., Agoura Hills, (818) 991-9560.

All American Sausage Co. is located at the Grove at Farmer’s Market, (323) 933-9600.

Bibi’s Warmstone Bakery is located at 8928 W. Pico Blvd., (310) 246-1788.

Delice Bakery is located at 8583 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 289-6556.

Hot Dog Blues

Yoshinoya and a sushi restaurant sprang up at Dodgers Stadium after Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo donned blue, but it’s going to be a while before L.A. fans will be able to bite into a kosher Dodger dog, even with the addition of Jewish outfielder Shawn Green.

When Dodger fan Stuart Tochner took a tour of East Coast ballparks in 1998, the plethora of kosher hot dog vendors amazed him. The popularity of kosher pups at ballgames is undeniable. That same year, Rabbi David Senter, who operates stands at Yankee and Shea Stadium, averaged sales of 600 hot dogs per week.
Tochner, who often brings his own food or eats pizza or French fries at games, wanted a kosher alternative to Farmer John’s pork-laden Dodger dog. Together with Paul Cunningham, Tochner contacted Irvin Lonzo at Aramark — the company responsible for concessions at Dodger Stadium — and requested kosher hot dogs be added to the regular menu.

“We have a pretty substantial Jewish community here, and you don’t have much of a choice if you want to have a meal at Dodger Stadium,” said Cunningham.

Based on positive feedback from Lonzo, Tochner and Cunningham were hopeful that Aramark would be able to follow through for the 2001 season. Recently, Cunningham received an e-mail from Lonzo stating that due to contractual obligations with Farmer John he was unable to sell the product.

Lonzo told The Journal that the Dodgers did push to have kosher hot dogs served during a 2000 season Jewish night, and “when the contract [with Farmer John] expires, we can then explore this avenue.”

“I really hope that there’s some way the Dodgers can offer kosher hot dogs at the ballpark. I think there are many Jewish fathers who would love to be able to share that experience with their kids,” said Tochner.



Seder at Spago,et. al.

More and more restaurants put Passover on themenu.

By Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer

“I’m a Jewish girl, and my husband’s a Catholic,”says Barbara Lazaroff, who has been married for 15 years to renownedchef Wolfgang Puck.

About 12 years ago, Passover was a lonesome timefor Lazaroff, most of whose Jewish relatives lived out of town. SoSpago regulars nudged her to create a restaurant seder, and she consulted withhubby Wolf (“He said, ‘We can make shrimp.’ I said, ‘I don’t thinkso,'” Lazaroff quips).

The result was the first seder ever held in anupscale Los Angeles eatery, with kosher-style (i.e., not strictlykosher) fare a la Puck’s trendy-interpretive cuisine.

Forget bubbe’s chopped liver and matzofarfel. In recent years, the 250 Spago seder guests have munched onfois gras withkosher red-wine sauce; herbed whitefish gefilte fish; Moroccan lamband, of course, flourless chocolate cake. This year, there’s no setmenu as yet: “Wolf hates to do menus, except a few days beforehand,” Lazaroffsays.

The seder is set for April 11, the second night ofPassover, in the airy, sky-lit dining room at Spago Beverly Hills.The interactive program will be led by Lazaroff, a rabbi and a cantor– the latter two had yet to be selected by press time. The tickets,which will cost around $150 per person, will benefit Mazon: A JewishResponse to Hunger. But don’t just show up, Lazaroff warns. Spago’sseder has so many regulars, it may be tough for newcomers to purchasetickets.

On April 10 and 11 in Santa Monica, GerriGilliland’s nouvelle-American restaurant, Jake & Annie’s, willoffer Passover-style fare amid the fried chicken and meatloaf. The$21.95 price-fixed meal will include entrees such as hot-poachedsalmon and cucumber-dill sauce, minty roasted leg of lamb andapricot-glazed chicken. Chef Jesus Navarro will prepare the recipesfrom Judy Zeidler’s Jewish cookbooks. “Gerri and Judy are friends,”says Jake & Annie’s general manager Gary Allen, “so we try tofollow Judy’s recipes to the T. If her chopped liver calls forschmaltz, we useschmaltz.”

Gilliland’s nouvelle-Irish cafe, Gilliland’s, alsoin Santa Monica, will have some Passover victuals, but the menuwasn’t set as The Journal went to press.

If you crave traditional Passover viands, tryJerry’s Famous Deli, whose eight Los Angeles-area restaurants willoffer an $18.75, four-course meal, with sliced roast brisket, matzokugel and more. Some, but not all, of Jerry’s locations are open 24hours, so check before you set out at 3 a.m. with a yen for roastchicken and macaroons.

For those who require strictly kosher cuisine, ahandful of area restaurants are kashering for Pesach. It’s ameticulous endeavor that requires a blow torch for all that stubbornchametz stuck inthe oven cracks, says Rabbi Nissim Davidi, kashrut administrator forthe Rabbinical Council of California.

Simon’s La Glatt, on Fairfax Avenue, will preparestandard Ashkenazic takeout (stuffed cabbage, tzimmes, kishke) andsit-down meals during the intermediate days of the eight-day holiday.If you want barbecue chicken wings, chicken picata or grilled ahituna, try the Rimini Restaurant at the Beverly Carlton Hotel inBeverly Hills. Rimini is also catering the hotel’s seders on April 10and 11 ($45 per person, plus tax and tip).

Meanwhile, kosher caterer Micheline’s will moveinto the Beverly Grand Hotel to cook for the hotel’s seders on April10 and 11 ($60 plus tax and tip). In the banquet rooms, Micheline’swill become a restaurant for the rest of the holiday, serving upchicken fajitas, grilled rib steaks, and deli sandwiches on homemadePassover rolls. Do the rolls taste like bread? “Sort of,” ownerMicheline Weiss says.

A less-expected seder milieu is the non-kosherrestaurant Cava, at 8384 W. Third St., whose flamboyant chef,Cuban-born Toribio Prado, is known for adventurous, Caribbean andSpanish cuisine. But for the past three years, Prado, also of Cha ChaCha, has been cooking up an anything-but-Ashkenazic sederfeast.

Cuban-born Toribio Prado, above, chef of Cava and Cha ChaCha, says his Jewish grandmother taught him an appreciation forSephardic food, a variety of which will be served at Cava’s sedermeal. At left, grilled lamb, Passover-style.

It was Prado’s Jewish grandmother who taught himan appreciation for Sephardic food, where olive oil subs for theAshkenazic chicken fat, and exotic spices for heavy-on-the-salt. Hisfour-course seder ($55 per person, $30 for children) on April 12 willbe a virtual Sephardic world tour: Moroccan chicken soup with leeks,fava beans and coriander; Indian toasted mango salad with cucumberand fresh mint; Tunisian roast lamb with tarragon and plum-corianderchutney; pan-seared Pacific whitefish with green chili and tomatopuree, almond torte and pomegranate sorbet.

Food mavens Roy and Robin Rose willlead the seder with a historical /archaeological twist; St. Superykosher wines will provide the four cups; and a portion of theproceeds will benefit Vista Del Mar. “Reservations are a must,” saysCava consultant Gerry Furth. “One year, we had 40 people sign up, but80 people showed up!”

For reservations and information, call Spago at(310) 394-3922; Jake & Annie’s, (310) 452-1734; Gilliland’s,(310) 392-3901; Jerry’s Famous Deli, (818) 766-8311 (or phone yourlocal Jerry’s); Simon’s La Glatt, (213) 658-7730; Rimini Restaurant,(310) 552-1056; Micheline’s, (310) 204-5334; The Beverly Grand Hotel,(213) 939-1653; Cava, (213) 658-8898.

Passover Gefilte Fish

By Wolfgang Puck

1 head (about 2 1/2 pounds) green cabbage

2 cups matzo meal

1 quart fish stock

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 medium (5 ounces) onion, minced

2 pounds whitefish fillets, such as pike, carp orwhitefish, cut into chunks

3 eggs, separated

1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons (6 or 7 sprigs) chopped freshtarragon leaves

2 to 3 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Cayenne pepper, to taste

1 medium carrot, peeled and cut intojulienne

1 medium leek, white part only, cut intojulienne

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2) Blanch the head of cabbage in boiling saltedwater, about 5 minutes, then place in a basin of cold water. Removethe whole leaves and cut away the tough core. As you peel off theouter leaves, you may have to return the head of cabbage to theboiling water to soften the inner leaves. Dry on a clean towel andreserve.

3) Place thematzo meal in a small bowl. Coverwith 1 cup of stock and let soak until needed.

4) In a small skillet, heat the olive oil. Overmedium heat, sauté the onion until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Donot brown. Cool.

5) In a wooden bowl or on a chopping board, chopthe fish fine with a chopper or large knife. Add the matzo meal withthe stock, the cooled onions, 3 egg yolks, the chopped parsley andtarragon, 2 teaspoons of salt, white pepper and cayenne, and continueto chop until well-combined. In a clean medium bowl, whisk the eggwhite until firm but not stiff. Stir a little into the fish mixture,then quickly but gently fold in the remaining whites. To test forflavor, bring a little fish stock to a simmer, add a small ball ofthe fish mixture and cook for about 5 minutes. Taste and correctseasoning.

Heat the remaining fish stock and spoon a littleinto an 11-by-17-inch baking pan. Divide the fish mixture into 12portions, about 4 ounces each, and enclose each portion in one or twocabbage leaves. You will find that when the leaves get smaller, youwill have to use two leaves to wrap the fish. As each package isformed, place in the prepared baking pan, seam-side down. This sizepan holds the 12 packages comfortably. Pour the remaining stock overthe fish and top with the julienned carrots and leeks. Cover the panwith foil and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool in the stock andrefrigerate until needed.

Serves 12

Presentation: Placeone package of fish on each of 12 plates, garnishing with some of thejulienned carrots and leeks. Serve with homemade horseradish, whiteor red.

Homemade Horseradish

To make white horseradish, finely grate peeledfresh horseradish into a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, andrefrigerate until needed.

To make red horseradish, boil 1/2 pound red beetsuntil tender. Peel and then finely grate into a medium bowl. Addabout 1/2 cup grated horseradish, or to taste, and combinethoroughly. Refrigerate, covered, until needed.

Two women who don’t hate Pesach: BernieGruenbaum, left, with her daughter, Julie.

Why My Mom Doesn’t Hate Passover

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax,

Religion Editor

I always thought women hated Pesach. I guess theimpression came from watching my mother at seder: After weeks ofcleaning and days of cooking, she usually sat at the seder table,exhausted and testy — at least until she downed the second or thirdcup of wine.

But my mom insists that she loves Pesach, andespecially the seder.

Sure, she said, you have to get yourself organizedand plow through the cleaning, but once the house is turned over andall that’s left is the seder, it’s the connection with the past, thechildhood memories and bringing the family together that takes theforeground.

And it turns out that, for many women, that’s thesentiment which lingers well beyond the Brillo pads and manglednails.

But after talking to other women my age, I foundout that I’m not alone in my perception of women’s great animositytoward the festival of freedom. Many of us who have never made aseder but have known the pleasures of scrubbing a two-bedroomapartment tend to see more of the housekeeping horror — and theconsequent sexism — of the holiday.

Of course, my generation has moved apron-lengthsfrom my grandmother’s, when, more often than not, men waltzed intothe holiday with no concept of what went into it.

In fact, a few years ago, when I told mygrandparents that my husband had cleaned and kashered the entire kitchenwhile I was at work the Sunday before Pesach, they didn’t believeme.

The seders themselves have changed as well. WithJewish women and girls educated and interested in our heritage,discussion is no longer confined to the men at the head table — infact, the head table is no longer reserved just for men.

At one seder, when I was about 12, after my cousinand I had brought the bowl and pitcher around to wash all the men’shands, I asked her to hold the bowl for me as I washed mine. That wasa dramatic change from the way things were done “back home, in theold days,” but after some bemused smirks, it didn’t take long for allthe women to hold their hands out.

And, for many years, the men have been the mainservers at our seders, allowing their tired wives to rest.

When I think about my preparations for Pesach lastyear — even with the cleaning and the cooking — I can see my mom’spoint about looking past the drudgery. Despite my intellectualindignation at turning into a seder slave, memories of Pesachs pastonly make me smile. I love the cooking and the excuse to call oldfriends and distant family to check what they meant when they wrote”bake till done” on the recipe card. I relish challenging myself tomake my bagels come out as fluffy as Tante Mina’s (I’m convinced thatshe’s withholding an ingredient, because mine never do), and lookforward to pulling out Amy’s chocolate-chip cookie recipe, written onthe “Things To Do Today” memo with a big frog in the corner.

Then there’s the family seder. Everyonecontributes a dish because we never have fewer than 25 people –extended family, their neighbors and friends, and a Russian familythat just arrived. My grandparents’ dirge-like, but indispensable,Vizhnitzer tunes mingle with our more modern — some would saytwisted — traditions, most stemming from someone’s nursery-schoolmodel seder: a resounding round of “Adir Hu, you know it’s true, Mr.Potato Head I love you!” (please don’t ask); L’shana Ha’ba’s verticalclapping (imagine your hands are sandpaper); and the chest-thumping,ooh-aahing version of “Who Knows One?” that wakes up even thesleeping 4-year-olds.

By “Chad Gad Yu” (there’s that weird Vizhnitzeraccent showing up again), my mother and her sisters, who may havebeen about as lively as wet rags at Kadesh, are usually engaged inuncontrollable, adolescent fits of Yiddish-punctuated laughter. Theyinsist that it has nothing to do with the four cups. I didn’t believethem, until I saw it happen on grape juice alone.

But I guess it makes sense. They, like womenworldwide, have spent the last few weeks physically runningthemselves down. And they’ve spent the past few days encountering thepast and the future, carrying on traditions that, more than anything,keep a family together, keep a family Jewish. Add to that a sederwhere their kids get to show off their Jewish educations, where thenewest additions recite the “Ma Nishtanah” and where the souls ofdeparted loved ones squeeze in at the head of the table, watching andparticipating as always.

Who wouldn’t get drunk on that? Who wouldn’tmuster up every bit of reserved energy to celebrate?

It’s enough to squeeze the life back into a wetrag.

Gindi’s Version

By Rob Eshman, Managing Editor

The goal of Passover is to transmit the lessons ofthe Exodus to our children. The challenge of Passover is to transmitthe lessons of the Exodus to our children. The dinner is long. Mosthaggadot uselanguage that confounds a lot of grown-ups. Add the distractions offamily and friends, and you have several good reasons nothing shortof seat belts will keep children at theseder table.

Elie Gindi’s just-published “Family PassoverHaggadah” may be the solution. A few years back, Gindi, a CenturyCity internist, designed his own haggadah for his family’s seder. Hecut and pasted selections from dozens of liturgies, adding his ownchild-friendly translations and the kind of Passover songs his ownthree children, now aged 12, 9 and 6, brought home from school. Theresults astonished him. “There were 25 adults and 16 children, andnot one kid got up from the table.”

Gindi’s friends suggested he publish his homemadehaggadah, and, two years later, he has. Just like its prototype,Gindi’s version retells the Passover story at a reading levelsuitable for children. The story is substantially shortened too — itruns about 40 minutes before dinner, 10 minutes after.

For adults, the design, which Gindi himself puttogether after teaching himself advanced page layout on his Applecomputer, is a small seder feast in itself. Interspersed with thetext are examples of some of the holiday’s finest artwork, culledfrom more than 200 haggadot and museum collections around the world.Gindi spent the better part of a year acquiring the reprint rights toworks such as Toby Fluek’s “Making Haroset” and Reuven Rubin’s “FirstSeder in Jerusalem.”

High art shares space with more child-appealingillustrations. To illustrate the Ten Plagues, Gindi took his ownphotos (his children appear throughout with the subtlety ofHirschfield’s Ninas) and doctored them Newsweek-style. A snapshot ofSanta Monica Bay, the water ruddied by computer, provides a chillingdepiction of the plague of blood. The text of the haggadah combinesthe child-friendly narration with Gindi’s helpful commentary and aninsightful introduction by Rabbi Lee Bycel. There is a sampling ofSephardic traditions, a Holocaust poem, and several “How To” sectionsto help first-timers negotiate the holiday. Gindi’s wife, USCprofessor of medicine Pamela Schaff, edited the manuscript.

Those who prefer a more traditional haggadah havedismissed Gindi’s as truncated and incomplete. He reduces the longHallelbenediction, for instance, to just three lines. But Gindi said thathis work belongs to a tradition of interpretive haggadot. The test,he said, is whether or not it reaches children.

The book, which retails for $7.95, is now widelyavailable at synagogue and Jewish museum gift shops and Border’sBooks and Music. Proceeds from synagogue sales go to benefit theindividual shuls. A portion of the profits benefit the Los AngelesRetarded Citizens Foundation, and Gindi has donated copies toHadassah, the Westside Jewish Community Center and the JewishFederation, which will give them to major contributors at its April14 Salute to Israel dinner (see Page 12).

“It’s a real charge for me to get it out there andsee it be used,” said Gindi. His father, Moses Gindi, died on thefirst night of Passover in 1965, and, since then, the holiday hasheld a profound significance for him. “My dad was very much intoteaching his children,” Gindi said. “This is a legacy for him and atribute to him.”

For more information and to purchase the”Family Passover Haggadah,” call (310) 476-1565.