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.

When challah becomes the bread of affliction


Rabbi Marvin Hier fondly recalls bakery-fresh buns and muffins in his lunch when he attended yeshiva. He also admits to a penchant for challah.

“I didn’t just nosh on a piece of challie. I could have, on Friday and Shabbos, two slices, three slices of challie at the same meal. And the same with bagels,” he said.

Hier hasn’t eaten challah, let alone matzah, in several years. But this bread-free existence isn’t part of some Passover-inspired, Atkins-style diet. The founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center was diagnosed with celiac disease (CD) more than four years ago.

CD, also called celiac sprue, is an autoimmune disorder, like Crohn’s and multiple sclerosis. The ingestion of gluten — a protein in wheat, rye and barley — leads the immune system to identify the lining of the small intestine as a foreign object and mounts an attack, hampering the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The disease was thought to be rare, but it is now believed that 1 percent of the population — roughly 3 million people in the United States — have the condition, according to the Center for Celiac Research at University of Maryland School of Medicine. CD is especially common among Jews, along with Italians, Irish, British, Scandinavians, Spaniards and Palestinians.

CD typically presents with multiple symptoms, which can include various stomach and digestive ailments, as well as anemia, weight loss, depression or anxiety. The disease can also increase the risk of infertility, osteoporosis, arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, liver disease and certain types of cancer, like esophageal cancer and intestinal lymphoma.

Diagnosis can be challenging, because many medical professionals are not familiar with CD, and its symptoms overlap with other diseases. Research has shown that a celiac can see a succession of physicians and specialists over an average period of 11 years before the true source of the illness is diagnosed, according to The Celiac Disease Foundation, which is holding its annual Education Conference and Food Faire on May 3 at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Before his diagnosis, Hier, 69, recalls a life filled with acid reflux disease, which doctors treated with prescription medication.

It could have been years before the true cause of his digestive problems was found, if at all. His condition was finally discovered when one of his grandchildren was diagnosed in 2003 after suffering from almost daily stomach cramps. The entire family underwent testing because the disease is passed on genetically, and Hier was found to carry the genetic markers.

Looking back, he’s fairly certain he knows whom he inherited CD from in his own family.

“My father for sure had celiac,” he said. “He had a very skinny face, drawn.”

The disease can surface as early as 1 or 2 years old or can suddenly appear in women in their 40s. There is no cure for the condition and no pill to alleviate symptoms. While a few drug manufacturers are attempting to develop a vaccine, only a strict diet free of gluten can ease symptoms.

Dr. Michelle Pietzak, a pediatric gastroenterologist with Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, says many celiacs remain undiagnosed because physicians get little nutritional training in medical school and the education doctors receive afterward is partly based on information from drug companies, which currently have no drug-offering incentive to discuss the issue, she says.

“Also, there is some skepticism on the part of the physicians,” Pietzak said. “I’ve heard some physicians say, ‘Oh, this is just a trend like low-carb or the Zone Diet,’ and it’s not. [A gluten-free diet] is the medical treatment for the condition. But the awareness still has a long way to go.”

Elaine Monarch, executive director of the Celiac Disease Foundation, says she had symptoms growing up, but wasn’t diagnosed until she turned 41, in 1981. She said doctors attributed her problems to anemia because she was female or bloating due to her stressful lifestyle as a busy mom.

“Then I got violently ill, and they thought I had food poisoning, and then they thought I had a parasite,” she said.

When she was finally diagnosed, she said, the knowledge about the disease was so limited in the 1980s that she was told to stay away from bread, except for maybe a bagel on the weekends.

Studio City-based Celiac Disease Foundation has been a key player in helping the Food and Drug Administration adopt rules about how to define “gluten free” on product labels as part of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act; a final ruling on the voluntary law is expected by August.

Shopping for food, toiletries and medications can be confusing for those with celiac disease or other gluten-sensitive conditions. Wheat can be listed on labels in different forms: modified food starch, rusk, edible starch, cereal binders, cereal filler, thickener. A similar problem exists for rye and barley.

To help clear up some of that confusion, many celiacs turn to gluten-free blogs and online message boards for answers. And if you Google the name Rabbi Gershon Bess, at the top of the list is mention of his “Passover Guide to Cosmetics and Medications” on Celiac.com. The annual report features products like toothpaste, denture cream, vitamins and over-the-counter drugs that are free of wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt. (Gluten is too large to be absorbed through the skin, so cosmetics do not pose a problem for most celiacs.)

Bess says he fields requests for the Kollel L.A. guide from several non-Jews, and one woman has even asked to get a regular update each year. “She has said that she finds sometimes it’s more accurate than what the companies report,” he said.

Increased celiac consciousness among corporations has benefited kosher consumers during Passover by reducing the inclusion of wheat, rye and barley in foods.

“The companies are very sensitive to the needs of the celiac patients, which makes our job easier,” Bess said. “If they had a choice between corn or wheat starch, they would definitely go with the corn.”

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.

L.A.’s gourmet kosher makeover


At the new Shilo’s steakhouse on Pico Boulevard, concentric circles of color surround the caviar: green onion on the outside, yellow egg yolk sprinkled on the inner rim, followed by chopped egg whites peppered with blinis and tortillas and topped ceremoniously by a mound of glistening fish eggs.

The Ikura caviar is red, which indicates that it’s kosher — culled from salmon, not the non-kosher black beluga that comes from sturgeon.

At The Prime Grill on Rodeo Drive, the short ribs are braised for 12 hours and then served with wild mushrooms and spicy mustard. The chopped Wagyu Steak Sliders look like little hamburgers but are eye-openingly delectable, made from hand chopped steak, while the Oh Toro sashimi is smooth and silvery and almost swims down the throat.

At Tierra Sur at the Baron Herzog Winery in Oxnard, venison is one of the most popular dishes, and the white bean soup is topped with “bacon” — a crisp, salty, flavorful meat that’s made from lamb so it will be kosher.

Welcome to Southern California’s new world of Gourmet Kosher.
As America has fallen in love with food over the last decade, the kosher world has not been too far behind. Kosher products and kosher gourmet ingredients abound, as do kosher cookbooks and cooking classes and a general interest in food, entertaining and all it entails. The kosher market has proved a profitable one, appealing to the religious, the newly kosher and others who may want nondairy, halal or simply food that is perceived to be cleaner.

New York, the capital of fine dining, boasts a number of established top-caliber kosher restaurants, among them Le Marais, Abigail’s, Tevere and The Prime Grill, which opened there in 2000 and has just opened in Beverly Hills, as well.

The arrival in Southern California of The Prime Grill — a trendier, classier place than its New York counterpart — and other restaurants, signifies that Los Angeles, a city that often lags foodwise behind New York, San Francisco and Chicago, might finally be catching up when it comes to kosher food.

In the second-largest U.S. Jewish city (behind New York) Los Angeles has a fair number — about 50 — kosher eateries, from bakeries to pizza stores to ethnic food and a number of fancier restaurants.

New restaurants are appearing that don’t ladle up the chicken soup and pastrami sandwiches of yesteryear, though delis with that fare still abound, more often known as “kosher style” and consumed by the non-kosher crowd in the mood for a good knish.

This gourmet kosher trend is aspiring to create a whole new world of fine dining, with chefs trained at top culinary schools (some of them do not observe kashrut themselves) who offer high-end cuisine and extensive wine lists in dining rooms designed by famous decorators.

Pricey and elegant, the hope is to bring high-quality dining to the kosher consumer and, at the same time, attract all the other food connoisseurs that vie for tables at Los Angeles’ top eateries.

But are Los Angeles’ kosher consumers ready for high-class dining? And is the mainstream “treif” world ready to patronize a kosher restaurant as a prime destination?

What does it take to be a kosher restaurant?

No. 1, of course, is adherence to the laws of kashrut, a complex system with innumerable subtleties and exceptions, but which at its most basic elements prohibits pork, shellfish and some other animals and fish and their byproducts. There are also restrictions regarding alcohol and produce and laws prohibiting mixing meat and dairy products. Any kosher restaurant must choose to be either fleishig or milchiks (the Yiddish words for meat or dairy), which means choosing between steakhouse or Italian, a deli or a pizzeria. Not both.

To be certified glatt or suitably kosher for the Orthodox (there are also some Conservative certifications), a restaurant cannot be open on Sabbath or Jewish festivals. And, further, to get a hashgachah — the outside certification provided for a fee by organizations such as the Rabbinic Council of California, Kehilla and Rabbi Yehuda Bukspan, to name a few of the top L.A. certifiers — the venue must have a mashgiach onsite — a supervisor versed in the laws who will ensure complicity.

Rabbi Yaacov Vann, director of Kashrut Services at the RCC, one of the top kosher certifiers in California, describes the need for a kosher restaurant to be a “secure system,” and he uses specific criteria to assess the risks of each establishment.

“How likely is there to be a problem?” he said.

Bakeries, like the famous Schwartz’s, for example, have a low-risk assessment, because there’s little differential between ingredients for kosher bakeries and non-kosher bakeries — flour, sugar, eggs — are all pareve. “There’s little risk to cheat,” he said.

Meat, by contrast, must come from a certified shohet, or butcher, and is more expensive than regular meat. (In September, a scandal rocked Monsey, N.Y., when a butcher was discovered selling non-kosher meat to the ultra-Orthodox community.)

All restaurants, of course, need more oversight than any bakery or pizzeria, and the bigger and busier the place, the more supervision it requires. Depending on the facility, the mashgiach may be the owner or someone who works in the store or an outsider — although the RCC is hoping to require all restaurants to have outside supervisors to minimize corruption.

All this can cost the establishment thousands of dollars a year. But the assurance of strict observance is the only way to bring in people who eat kosher.

There are no statistics on the number of Jews who keep kosher in Los Angeles, though an estimated 10 percent of the L.A. area’s roughly 600,000 are said to be Orthodox. But even those numbers don’t mean much to restauranteurs, because not all religious Jews eat out, some do but only infrequently, limited by such reasons as money, time, family values or weekends spent at home for Shabbat. Many Jews who care about kashrut will also eat at non-kosher restaurants but limit themselves to nonmeat meals, allowing themselves more flexibility on the weekends, when kosher restaurants are closed.

In other words, it’s impossible to gauge the size of the market for kosher dining, except to say that the clientele, until now, has been mostly Jews, friends of Jews or colleagues of Jews taken there for business meals. And everyone agrees, that despite many choices until now among kosher restaurants, there haven’t been enough good kosher restaurants here.

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 www.jewishla.org.

To make a contribution to the American Jewish Committee, visit www.ajc.org.

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

— 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 Kolhanearim@gmail.com.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Letters 06-30-2006


South Central Farm
Ralph Horowitz’s claim of anti-Semitism simply serves to inject ethnic conflict into a debate it does not belong (“A Harvest of Conflict,” June 23).

As part of our senior project, I and my friend, Deepak Seeni, interviewed some of the people involved in the farm. I suffered no anti-Semitism. On the contrary, some of the people seemed interested when I explained why I could not eat the food that was being sold there.

To portray Horowitz negatively at a time of negotiations was foolish, but to judge on the basis of what a hate group the leadership condemned said is ridiculous. If Horowitz was interested in negotiating in good faith but found current leadership distasteful, I don’t understand why he didn’t accept the deal negotiated by the city and nonprofit groups on the basis that the city or another neutral agency be in charge of running the urban garden.

Throwing out misleading accusations doesn’t show good faith, and the fact this piece of land was not saved, in the end hurts only the kids whose closest alternative for play is an empty parking lot, while the parties unproductively blame each other.

Horowitz now has the chance to be a true mensch by simply reentering negotiations and finding a way to save that space for the community.

Charlie Carnow
Northridge

Assemblymember Monta?ez
In a column providing all sound bites and no substance, Jill Stewart offers comments disparaging Assemblymember Cindy Monta?ez (“These Dems Could Help Unlock Gridlock,” June 16). These comments are both mean-spirited and baseless.

Stewart’s first barb that Monta?ez (D-Mission Hills) is “an emotional hyperpartisan” is both sexist and false. Exactly how does one measure emotional hyperpartisanship? First, Monta?ez is a policymaker; [L.A. City Councilman Alex] Padilla is a power broker with little interest in real policy.

Next, Stewart makes claims like “[Monta?ez] proved incapable of working with both sides of the aisle in Sacramento.” Stewart, unsurprisingly, provides no support for this claim. Indeed, were Stewart an informed journalist, she would know that Assemblymember Monta?ez has co-authored 12 bipartisan pieces of legislation this session alone (AB547, AB568, etc). And readers should know that her legislation, signed by the governor, was, by definition, acknowledged by Republican leadership as necessary and important work.

Stewart is also off base in her ludicrous assertions that Monta?ez’s pro-labor position hurts her Latino constituents. In fact, being pro-labor and a being a friend to small business are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the reason that major labor organizations support Monta?ez is that she takes on, not kowtows to, big business. Stewart needs to do her homework.

Roy Kaufmann
Field Representative
Office of Assemblymember
Cindy Monta?ez

Jews and China
You’ve got it partially right — the next revolution in Jewish life is already taking place relative to China, but in a very different way than you describe and for a very different reason. (“This Week,” June 16).

Let me explain. Both traditional Judaism and the predominant Chinese philosophies are unbroken traditions addressing the whole person — intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Traditional Chinese medicine, based upon that premise, is truly holistic and integrative in both theory and clinical practice.

For this reason, an ever-increasing number of Jews seeking to bring balance to their lives and wellness to their health are attracted to Chinese medicine. Also, an ever-increasing number of Chinese medical practitioners and students are Jewish.

Yehuda Frischman
Los Angeles

You are not alone in your envisioning of Jews in China. In 1970, plus or minus a few years, Max Dimont, the author of “Jews, God and History,” was the speaker at a Temple Soleal retreat in Santa Barbara. He ended his talks with the prediction that the next great revival of Jews would be in China. Needless to say, most of us were dumbfounded. But the thought remained with me ever since.

Stan Burney
Via e-mail

Campus Activism
In his op-ed, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller mischaracterizes pro-Israel campus activism and ignores its importance and effectiveness (“Different Tack on Campus Challenge,” June 23). UCLA, in the heart of Jewish Los Angeles, does not always reflect what is happening nationally and internationally.

The rabbi’s approach certainly can enhance these efforts, but contrary to his charge, activist groups like StandWithUs promote coalition and bridge-building as a necessary part of activism. If the pro-Israel/pro-peace community abandons activism, it will do so at great risk.

Roz Rothstein, National Director
Dr. Roberta Seid, Educational Consultant
Esther Renzer, President StandWithUs

Kosher Entity
I am perplexed as to where the millions –if not billions — of dollars in profits that the “strongest and wealthiest entity in the Jewish world, ” except for Israel, as described by Rabbi Jacob Pressman, reside. Is there a secret bank account in Switzerland for the Orthodox Union (OU), the largest kosher certification entity?

The OU is a registered not for profit, so Pressman could easily check its financial documents (Letters, June 23).

While a few purveyors of kosher food –many of them non-Orthodox Jews or non-Jews — may make a handsome profit, the idea of a massive, megawealthy Orthodox “kosher entity” is as mythical as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

As an admirer of Pressman’s many contributions to L.A. Jewry and a member of a Conservative congregation, I am sorely disappointed that the rabbi has chosen to engage in what can only be called Orthodox bashing. And his words reinforce the negative canard that kashrut is “all about the money.”

Jodie Davidson
Woodland Hills

John Fishel
While the article titled, “A Private Man,” about John Fishel that ran May 26 was informative, it did not highlight one of Fishel’s key strengths.

Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.

A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.

This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.

Rhoda Uziel
Executive Director
Professional Leaders Project

Correction
In “Young Lawyer Has a Ball With Bet Tzedek” (June 23), The Journal incorrectly reported that Jeffrey A. Sklar is an attorney at Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP. Although he once worked at that firm, he is now an associate in the corporate practice of Loeb & Loeb LLP in Los Angeles.

In “Jesus’ Man Has a Plan” (June 23) the Rev. Rick Warren received his kippah from Jimmy Kolker, former U.S. ambassador in Uganda, not from the country’s president, as reported. Additionally, the invitation to Warren came from Rabbi David Wolpe, Craig Taubman and the ATID program at Sinai Temple, not from Synagogue 3000.

 

20+ Ideas to Jump-Start Jewish L.A.


David Suissa:
“Drink more coffee.”

One big, bold idea to energize L.A.’s Jewish community?

Three words: Drink more coffee.

I’m not kidding.

A new study from the University of Queensland in Australia suggests that drinking coffee makes people more open to a different point of view. In other words, it can make all of us more open-minded.

Can you imagine what would happen if our precious Jewish community in Los Angeles became more open-minded? Let’s go on a high-octane ride together:

Imagine if on one Shabbat, every synagogue would “open up” to a different rabbi. For example, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky could switch with Rabbi Yacov Pinto, Rabbi Yosef Shusterman with Rabbi David Toledano, Rabbi Laura Geller with Rabbi David Wolpe, Rabbi Elazar Muskin with the Happy Minyan, Aish with Chabad, Rabbi Steven Weil with the Persians, and so on. All over Los Angeles on this One Sharing Shabbat, Jews would experience something different, but very Jewish. If it’s a hit, we can make it a monthly tradition, and yes, the chazans would also switch, to give us the full effect.

Want a refill?

On campuses, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller would down a double espresso and invite hard-nosed right-winger Mort Klein, of the Zionist Organization of America, to speak. Seidler-Feller himself would go (with three bodyguards) to give his message of peace at Rabbi Moshe Benzaquen’s shul.

You get the picture: cross-promotion across all the colors of Judaism to energize a great community. All we need to put this ingathering of exiles together is one enthusiastic volunteer who is not afraid of rejection and has a good phone plan. (Any takers? E-mail me at dsuissa@olam.org)

This is peoplehood, my friends. We are one big, noisy, opinionated family, and we are diverse. But what good is a diverse family if we all stay in our own rooms? How can we strengthen our bonds if we so rarely hang out, pray, eat, sing and learn with each other? The opposite of love is indifference. Instead of obsessing over Jewish continuity, we should ignite Jewish curiosity. Sure, the unfamiliar can be uncomfortable, but in this case it has one thing going for it: It’s Jewish!

Forget the whiskey club. For those of Jewish unity, let’s all choose the coffee bean.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

 

Robin M. Kramer:
“Welcoming, modern, accessible, authentic Jewish nursery school experience….”

What if a welcoming, modern, accessible, authentic Jewish nursery school experience were available to the families of every 3- and 4-year-old Jewish child in Los Angeles?

The result would be new dynamism, connection and community, judging by the experience at my shul, Temple Israel of Hollywood, which has tried to create a program worthy of emulation.

What are the characteristics of a top-quality nursery school program? A school’s learned and loving faculty should reach out in the best tradition of Abraham and Sarah, welcoming strangers and those less connected to the Jewish tent, extending the community’s embrace to grandparents and to families of all configurations, including the diversity of faith traditions. Where isolation exists in our big city, the school community should offer warmth and connection — a family-centered, holistic port of entry to Jewish life. This essential school should, with mirth and through experience, mark the sacred moments of the Jewish year, and introduce the literature, music, art and soul of our people, bringing to life the belief that every individual is both special and part of a larger human family. A fine nursery school experience builds family demand for an ongoing pipeline of robust Jewish invention and education, both formal and informal. This could be catalytic.

But how could this be affordable for all Jewish families? It would require unprecedented focus, partnership, wisdom and vision — as well as the development of millions of dollars of new financial and institutional resources. Regional and master plans for early education could provide a roadmap, which would include support for educator preparation, increased salaries, and ongoing professional development. Another key is providing facilities and scholarships to ensure universal accessibility that does not presently exist.

All told, it would be a massive undertaking, but relatively speaking, the investment would be modest, given the potential yield of enduring communal dividends.

Robin M. Kramer is chief of staff for L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Gary Wexler:
“The physical center could be the Brandeis-Bardin Institute.”

The idea is about ideas.

In my work with Jewish communities throughout America and Canada, I have learned that Los Angeles possesses a wonderful characteristic that none of those other communities have.

We are blessed with the absence of ingrained tradition, free of the boundaries cast by “the way things are just done.” Unlike the New York, D.C. and Boston Jewish communities, we aren’t committed to pass our thinking and ideas through a paralyzing hyper-critical sieve encumbered with an inner lining of hyper-intellectualism, hyper policy orientation, and a hyper-sense of ownership of all things Jewish.

The L.A. Jewish community is a wide-open environment where we can embrace the vibrant, free flow of ideas. It is time we grabbed that opportunity. Los Angeles, with its thriving creative industries, is poised to become the center for the creation of new ideas in Diaspora Jewish life and beyond.

If we will it.

We even have space where this mission could be planted, nurtured and allowed to flourish. The physical center could be the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, an institution that has for years been in search of its mission. The Institute could convene the best Jewish and non-Jewish minds in Los Angeles, even establishing a creative and thinking discipline, a Los Angeles/Brandeis-Bardin brand — something that would be celebrated, respected and sought after.

Four times a year, the best minds would convene to discuss such topics as

American values and how they are influenced by Jewish traditions, including themes like education, literature, music, Next Generation issues, Israel/Diaspora relations, medicine/healing, humor, etc. The participants would represent diverse perspectives so that we are not just exchanging the same ideas back and forth. Ideas, like genes, need to be cross-pollinated, or you have a flawed process.

The Institute would have to be strategically and carefully reconstructed so that the Jewish world would wait to see what ideas are coming out of Los Angeles, the natural environment for this gestation. The discipline would lend itself to all other offerings of the Institute, including its camps, and community activities, turning them into national models.

The Brandeis-Bardin Institute would have to give up a lot of what it is holding on to, which is actually holding it back. It would need to form the type of board capable of bringing this to reality. (Imagine that process!)

Of course, you could expect that the East Coast Jewish establishment would reflexively try to negate what we do. The owners of Jewish life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan would write articles challenging our every move.

It could be just what Los Angeles and the Diaspora Jewish community needs.

Gary Wexler is the founder and president of L.A.-based Passion Marketing.

Lisa Stern:
“More children … born, adopted, fostered and reared in loving Jewish homes.”

Twenty years ago the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and my son were born.

In the ensuing years I, indeed my generation, have been busy chasing the illusive balance between career, community service and family. Many of us delayed marriage and restricted the size of our families so we could collect degrees and worldly possessions. We had the lowest birthrate in our history and the trend, we are told, is getting worse. In that echo we may have short-changed our community and ourselves.

It’s time to do something about this. We cannot afford to let our legacy evaporate. This will involve sacrifice. Our progeny may have to do more with less and those who are able will have to fund this vibrancy.

Ours is a shared mission because we are a covenantal people; our fate is inextricably bound one to another. History teaches us that even during the most cataclysmic times our people did not deviate from the Jewish narrative: the preciousness of life, family, community and continuity.

My vision for the future is both simple and radical. I pine for a bold and transformative era where more children are born, adopted, fostered and reared in loving Jewish homes.

Lisa Stern, a Hancock Park attorney, has long been active in local Jewish causes and spearheaded litigation that forced Nazi-era insurance companies to pay benefits to families of Holocaust victims.

Joan Hyler:
“The next generation must learn.”

We are at a key moment — our culture must engage a conversation between the Heeb generation and The Federation generation. The way to do this is to develop a single citywide program that will identify, train and involve these young up-and-coming adults. The program must transcend organizational and denominational boundaries.

We who have come before already know the essentialness of The Jewish Federation, synagogues, the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, etc. The next generation must learn and, indeed, must take over. To make this transition successful, these vital organizations will have to do something that they don’t always do well: work together. The future of the Jewish community in Los Angeles depends on a focused collaboration among these well-funded, mainstream institutions.

As someone who helped initiate start-up groups in Los Angeles (MorningStar Commission under Hadassah and the National Foundation of Jewish Culture’s Entertainment Council), I’ve witnessed the difficulty in getting these large unwieldy institutions to talk to one another. They must do so, and open up to new conversations with the 20-somethings who are pouring into public life — or waiting for the right invitation.

Along the way, we must embrace the tension of not knowing who and what is next.

Joan Hyler, a former William Morris Agency senior vice president, runs Hyler Management, a boutique entertainment company and agency.

Rachel Levin:
“Bring back salons.”

Conversation. That is my “bold” idea to help invigorate Jewish life (and just plain life) in Los Angeles — good old, face-to-face, word-flying, idea-exchanging talk. In a city dominated by cell phones, Blackberries and dinner reservations, the idea of inviting people to your home to sit in person and talk about things that matter may just be a radical notion.

Specifically, I am suggesting we bring back salons — a structure for conversation that originated in 16th-century France, eventually making its way to 19th-century Germany, where the most important salons were run by Jewish women. These evenings mixed Jews and non-Jews, artists and aristocrats and according to some, were “nothing less than central to the development of modernity.”

Lest I scare you off with the weight of these previous gatherings, have no fear. I am not talking about the wittiest of hostesses and guests the likes of Klimt or Rodin. At their core, salons are just “talking parties” and, according to Mireille Silcoff, who started one in Toronto (and is the inspiration for this idea), for a salon to work you only need four things: (1) a willing host; (2) a good mix of people (you don’t want “like minds to sit there and be in agreement all night”); (3) someone to keep the conversation on track; and (4) food and drink. Add to that a topic of your choice – anything from “Jewish Guilt and Pleasure” to “What’s great about our city/What’s missing?” and you’re set. (See www.rebooters.net to download topic ideas and readings.) Now imagine if 100 of these were happening around the city – with people of all ages and backgrounds. Imagine how they could change the way people experience community – not to mention the new ideas they could spark. Now go talk amongst yourselves!

Rachel Levin is the associate director of Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation.

Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“24-hour satellite network….”

Today, the majority of Jews are unaffiliated, and our challenge is how best to reach them. In a world dominated by media and technology, one of the answers is through the medium of television. The time has come for the creation of a 24-hour satellite network that would combine films, concerts, theater, educational programs and live coverage of breaking news events that have particular relevance to Jews around the world. After all, there are specific cable networks for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc.

While it is true that such an undertaking would require significant funds, it is also true that the Jewish community has the resources and its prominence would surely be an incentive for the major network and cable television providers to offer the programming.

Let us remember that our world has changed. If we want to reach the unaffiliated, we must think beyond our small neighborhood and the traditional methods to deliver the message of Jewish continuity as widely as possible.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance.

Zev Yaroslavsky:
“We cannot afford to be silent or absent from the compelling issues facing our community.”

Years ago, when I was active in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry, there were two Jewish Community Relations Committees that made a huge difference. The JCRC chapters in San Francisco (under the leadership of the legendary Earl Raab), and Cleveland, Ohio, stood tall and pushed the envelope of social activism. They successfully rallied the Jewish and non-Jewish community to pressure our government and the international community to do the right thing. Our cause was helped, our community was energized and our relations with other communities were strengthened.

It’s time to bring that formula to Los Angeles.

The JCRC of The Jewish Federation should be a forum for discussion, advocacy and action on the issues that affect us and our relations with others. The JCRC should be invigorated by making room at the table for representatives of the wide variety of stakeholders within our community. This should include the breadth of the religious spectrum, our diverse social welfare and social action organizations, and the myriad active youth movements.

We cannot afford to be silent or absent from the compelling issues facing our community or our neighbors at this critical time. We should speak out on foreign affairs, domestic policy, immigration and much more. Our voices need to be constructively heard both within and outside our organizational walls.

We really don’t have a minute to waste.

Zev Yaroslavsky is a Los Angeles County supervisor.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis:
“We need a believable Jewish theology, not a set of dogmas.”

Can the Siddur be taught without Jewish theology? Can you pray without a conception of God? Can you read the Torah or haftorah without understanding the philosophy of the Bible? Can you observe the Sabbath or keep kosher without understanding its sense of purpose?

You can.

It is being done in school and shul, and to our great loss. We have been taught and learned to mimic the “how,” “when,” and “where” of ritual behavior, absent the “why” and “what for.” That sort of practice will not satisfy our spiritual and moral yearnings.

Jewish theology deals with ultimate questions: to whom do we pray; for what do we pray; and can we pray for anything? What is the nature of the God we worship? What are the attributes of Godliness, and can they be imitated in our lives? Stripped of Jewish teleology — the Jewish sense of purpose — we are left with a mindless orthopraxy. Fluency in reading Hebrew does not reveal the meaning of the sacred prayer and biblical text.

The common complaint is boredom. Boredom signifies the emptiness that comes from belief-less living. Add responsive readings, enlarge the choir, multiply musical instrumentation, shorten the sermon and all to no avail. Prayer is poetry, but it is poetry believed in. Without belief, prayer is reduced to rhetoric.

Belonging, behaving and believing are the three marks of Jewish identity. We have wrongly thought that we can overcome the need to believe and fill its vacuum with belonging to institutions, paying dues and making contributions. We have wrongly thought that ritual busyness can substitute for the rationale of our behavior.

The Sabbath; the salting of the meat; the binding of the tefillin; and the blessing over lights, bread and wine — must not be gestures of mechanical behaviors.

We need a believable Jewish theology, not a set of dogmas. We call not for a monolithic set of doctrines, but for the adventure of the ethical and spiritual wrestling with our angels of conscience. Our goal is to persuade the so-called Jewish atheists and acquaint them with the rich theological alternatives within the Jewish tradition. The role of Jewish theology is to awake in our people the excitement and moral sensibility of ideas as ideals, which makes our earned belief system credible and actionable.

C.S. Lewis sagely wrote, “When a person ceases to believe in something, it is not that he believes in nothing, but that he believes in anything.”

Human nature, Jewish human nature as well, abhors a vacuum. A theological hole is soon filled with magic, superstition and cultic sectarianism. Neither esthetics nor edifices can serve as surrogates for the foundation of religious rationale. The three intertwining threads of belonging, behaving and believing must not be unraveled.

Harold Schulweis is a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Daniel Sokatch:
“Jewish tradition is just as insistent that Jews respect the rights of workers as it is that Jews adhere to the rules of kashrut.”

Observant Jews in Los Angeles (and elsewhere) look for a certificate of kashrut, a heksher or a teudat heshgoha on a product or on the wall or window of a restaurant or market. These symbols tell them what they can buy and where they can eat. These foods, these restaurants, are certified as strictly following Jewish ritual observance.

Similarly, many Jews and non-Jews have come to rely on the county health department for its own version of a teudat heshgoha: letter grades, portrayed in bright colors on a uniform white placard – to determine, at a glance, the level of cleanliness at restaurants and markets. Whether a restaurant has a blue “A,” a green “B,” or (God forbid) a red “C” has become part of the calculation Angelenos make when considering where to dine.

But there is a next, important step to take. It’s beyond the reach of county inspectors but entirely in keeping with Jewish tradition. The notion of what is “kosher” should extend beyond preparation of food in accordance with ritual law; it should encompass the way in which human beings treat one another.

Jewish tradition is just as insistent that Jews respect the rights of workers as it is that Jews adhere to the rules of kashrut. We can tell if the restaurant we are about to enter is clean and kosher by looking for the certificates. But how does it treat employees?

Los Angeles needs a Human Rights heshgoha. We should insist that businesses that want Jewish customers treat their workers fairly and pay them a living wage. Those that do so could proudly display the blue aleph. And we would know to avoid the businesses with the red gimmel in the window – until they improve working conditions.

Who knows? Other community groups might just follow our lead, making Los Angeles fairer and better for all its inhabitants.

Daniel Sokatch is executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

 

Uri D. Herscher:
“Jews do not and cannot thrive as “a people that dwells apart.”

For many centuries of the Jewish people’s history, the world outside was hostile at best, lethal at worst. In such a world, insularity was tempting, and sometimes essential. We now live in a nation that strives, if not always successfully, to realize democratic ideals that include openness and inclusiveness. The Skirball Cultural Center was founded on the conviction that Jews need to respond in kind, that Jews do not and cannot thrive as “a people that dwells apart.”

And full Jewish participation means that our good works, too, must resist insularity. The Jewish obligation to help the needy, to heal the sick, to school the unschooled only begins in the Torah. It ends on the street, whether that street runs through Fairfax or Pacoima.

If we offer a Judaism that stops at the margins of the Jewish community, we will have marginal Jews. They will walk a narrow path, and a futile one. For we have learned, to our sorrow, that unless the society at large is safe, Jews will never be safe. In an open society, insularity is a grave danger. Even if we could exist in a vacuum, there would be no air to breathe. Whatever the future holds for the Jews, our destiny is tied to the society as a whole, the two strands intertwined — a double helix, like life itself.

When the Torah commands, “Open your hand to your needy brother,” it does not qualify the statement. The person in need is not subjected to an identity test. Jewish concern is ultimately human concern.

We should discover and give voice to people within and beyond the Jewish community. Examples matter! We must seek out opportunities — as individuals and through our organizations — to make positive examples of ourselves. And we should focus the benefits of our good deeds where such acts are most needed — outside the Jewish community as well as within. To open our hands to those in need is to open them as wide as we can.

Uri D. Herscher is founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center.

Dr. Michael B. Held:
“Build inclusive schools where all students benefit from diversity.”

As awareness of “full inclusion” grows, the distinction between “regular” and “special” education is changing. In truth, every child has both typical and special features and Jewish education should be for every child regardless of ability or challenge.

By typical standards, 10 percent of all students have special needs. Given that, we would expect to find 1,000 students with special needs out of the 10,000 enrolled in local Jewish day schools. But fewer than 100 such students have been identified in this category. Why are so many students apparently excluded and how do we go about creating “inclusive” Jewish schools?

Largely because current efforts to help special-needs children are simply inadequate.

Local educators have sincerely tried to address the need, by adding on special services, but in a piecemeal fashion. Rather, we can build inclusive schools where all students benefit from diversity, state of the art curriculum, and a truly collaborative, team-based approach.

In other words, there needs to be a paradigm shift from the goal of simply creating make-do programs to adopting a human rights model, guaranteeing full access for all Jewish students.

As utopian as that sounds, it is the only way to create and sustain access for special needs children and improve education for all students.

And it is doable. Anyone who doubts this should visit the CHIME Charter Elementary School in Woodland Hills, an inclusive public school. CHIME’s Academic Performance Index (API) jumped an amazing 77 points in one year. Further, the school was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a national model for innovative education.

It is not about the money; it is about transforming Jewish education by including 900 new students who belong in our school system with programming that is educationally sound and morally right. Let’s not delay!

Dr. Michael B. Held is the founder and executive director of the Etta Israel Center.

Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin:
“Any child in Los Angeles who wants a Jewish education should get one.”

Any serious discussion about revitalizing Los Angeles’ Jewish community must focus on one thing: our children. They’re our most precious resource, and we must protect and nurture them to safeguard our future as a people. Sadly, we’re neglecting this responsibility each day that we fail to guarantee them access to an affordable Jewish education.

This is a real crisis. Whenever a child is denied a Jewish education by prohibitive tuition costs, we lose something that can’t be replaced. We squander a chance to impart our values to a new generation- and we abandon the future leaders of our community.

Simply put, any child in Los Angeles who wants a Jewish education should get one. At Chabad schools, we strive to accept every deserving child who comes to us, regardless of family income, so that nobody is denied for lack of funds. Now our entire community must step forward with generous scholarships for all of Los Angeles’ Jewish schools to ensure that no child is ever turned away, anywhere.

Other major American Jewish communities are already doing this. Does it cost money? Yes. But we live in a city of riches. And if we don’t make this investment today, we’ll pay a terrible price tomorrow.

Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin is director of West Coast Chabad Lubavitch.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley:
“Outreach Centers for Jewish Life and Learning as ubiquitous as Starbucks….”

I am pro-synagogue, but synagogues as they now function do not serve all Jews well enough. The problem for these Jews and other potentially interested spiritual seekers is that affiliated Jewish life is too expensive, too boring, too irrelevant, too far and just too “other.”

That’s a shame, because it’s vital to bring in as many unaffiliated Jews as possible to the wonders and beauties of Jewish life, study and practice. And as a people, we need all possible Jews to commit to Judaism and to the state of Israel. Many good people and good places are taking on this mission, but they are not networked nor coordinated, and they are under funded.

What’s needed, communitywide, is the outreach energy of Chabad and Aish HaTorah. We need to reach the hundreds of thousands of Jews (and un-churched Americans) who will not become Orthodox, who may be turned off by worship services, who might not believe in God, for whom Hebrew is (at least for now) too high a threshold for participation in Jewish life.

I would like to see Outreach Centers for Jewish Life and Learning as ubiquitous as Starbucks, as inviting as the as the first sentence of a leather-bound classic. They should feature libraries and bookstores filled with Jewish books, music and videos — for all ages, intellects and interests. There should be ongoing classes conducted by deep, learned engaging teachers who will bring the profundities of Jewish wisdom to bear on people’s lives. And these classes should be geared to different types of beliefs, learning styles, ages, and goals. These gathering spots should include a Beit Midrash (study hall) — some should remain open 24 hours a day.

Because some people are turned off by worship, or by conventional styles of worship, there should be more create ways to celebrate Shabbat. Maybe a group could read and discuss Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Buber, Harold and Larry Kushner, etc. There could be Learners’ Minyans for those who would like to break the code of Jewish prayer. How about music-oriented experiences, meditative experiences, even political discussion (with knowledgeable, fair and balanced moderators)?

As for the next steps…. Well, the possibilities are many, but first a few caveats.

This effort will take substantial funding. Jewish educational institutions – undergrad program, grad programs and seminaries must be ready and able to produce hundreds of talented teachers (who ought to receive excellent salaries and benefits, and lots of variegated support in their work). And synagogues and other communal institutions need to be ready to transform.

What are we waiting for?

How wonderful it would be to send the word out: “All unaffiliated Jews: Come home. We are now ready.”

Mordecai Finley is the rabbi of Ohr HaTorah Congregation, and serves as provost and professor of liturgy and rabbinics at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus.

Dr. Bruce Powell
“Pay all, or a significant part, of every third child’s Jewish day school tuition.”

Millions of dollars have been expended by our fabulous national mega-donors for the Birthright Project — two free weeks in Israel for college-age students who have never been on an organized program. This is real vision.

What I now suggest is the next big step: The Birthrate Project.

Married couples with two children, and who value Jewish day school education, have told me that they have chosen not to have a third or fourth child because they cannot afford one more child in a Jewish day school or Jewish overnight camp. These choices portend a Jewish demographic reality that does not even replace our current population of Jews in America, given that many who are physically able have one or no children at all. If we believe that Judaism, and by extension, Jews, have an important contribution to make to America and the world, this situation cannot stand. We have not even replaced, in 60 years, those souls lost in the Shoah.

My “Modest Proposal” is to launch the Birthrate Project where the national community makes a commitment to pay all, or a significant part, of every third (or perhaps fourth) child’s Jewish day school tuition, kindergarten through 12th grade and/or for Jewish overnight camp. All awards would be based on financial need. A fourth or fifth child might also be funded in partnership with the local Jewish schools. If, for example, this funding produces 100,000 new kids, the total yearly cost at, say, $15,000 a year for tuition, is $1.5 billion.

Imagine the historic implications for the community, over time, of a 100,000 new, Jewish human beings all in possession of deep Jewish knowledge, vision and values from day school — or deeply identified through their Jewish camp experiences. Now imagine our Jewish future without this new life.

I’m ready to follow up on this idea. Are you?

Bruce Powell is head of school at New Community Jewish High School.

Randall Kaplan
“Adopt-a-cause, create a fun event, and make it easy for volunteers”

Our business model was relatively simple. We started with the idea for a different kind of fundraiser — a fun and cool event for a great cause — and then recruited between 20 and 30 of our most talented friends to serve on our planning committee and sell tickets and sponsorships.

But here’s where we were different. We weren’t well-heeled people in our 70s, or even in our 60s or 50s. We didn’t do this after our primary careers, after we’d made money. We were in our 20s.

And that’s how The Justice Ball was born about 10 years ago. Each year, it raises vital dollars for Bet Tzedek, a legal aid service for the poor, disabled, elderly and homeless. During nine straight sellouts, we’ve raised more than $3.6 million — making the Justice Ball the most successful under-40 nonprofit fundraiser in the country. Besides making donations, our more than 16,000 attendees and contributors have been introduced to the wonderful work of Bet Tzedek.

We started The Justice Ball at ages when conventional thought dictated that we would be more focused on careers than on philanthropy. In reality, most people in their 20s are interested in philanthropy and simply don’t know how to get involved. In essence, we made it easy for them — we formulated our idea after choosing a great cause, and with those in hand we targeted a specific but untapped group of talented volunteers.

This “adopt-a-cause, create a fun event, and make-it-easy for volunteers” approach is transportable and would work in other contexts. There are tens of thousands of young professionals in Los Angeles (and elsewhere) who want to get involved. Each synagogue could appoint a rabbi or lay leader to identify future leaders. Nearly 130 synagogues exist in Los Angeles, and if each of these adopted a cause and put its best young leaders together, this formidable but unused human capital could be harvested to do an incredible amount of good.

Randall Kaplan is CEO of JUMP Investors.

Gerard Bubis
“No economic barriers limiting the creativity and creative continuity of Jewish experiences….”

We live in a silo community — many vibrant communities throughout the city that connect and cooperate, if at all, intermittently throughout the years.

My wish is to ascertain, in a thoughtful and representative way, the driving Jewish visions for the greater Los Angeles Jewish community. Are people and institutions ready to set forth an over-aching vision for our collective future? Are there those who would act to bring those visions into reality?

I propose a series of town meetings throughout the community. Participants would be asked to ponder:

Is it important that a Jewish community exist in Los Angeles that is devoted to the cultural, social, psychological, and physical betterment of Jews here and around the world?

If the answer is some form of yes, then I would want to explore exactly how to enhance Jewish identity and how to expand interactive and purposeful relations with likeminded Jews throughout the world.

I would have as many venues as possible; the gatherings would be heavily advertised. I would train 100 or so discussion leaders to keep the focus on the question. Discussions could then lead to specific proposals to satisfy those answering the question in the affirmative.

The first stage of the follow-up would be bringing together 15 to 20 opinionmakers, shakers and doers from the worlds of business, the arts, academia, the rabbinate, Jewish educators and communal professionals. Their charge would be to refine the suggestions into an action program, set priorities and put a price tag on the visions about which there was sufficient consensus. This group would become the sales force to package and sell this set of visions to those individuals and organizations that could assure and underwrite the effort.

What do I imagine could come of such an enterprise?

I’d like to see no economic barriers limiting the creativity and creative continuity of Jewish experiences for individuals and families

What if education, trips to Israel, memberships in all manner of organizations were truly open to all, regardless of economic or social status? How much more would Jewish life flourish if more scholarships were available for those prepared to spend the lives as educators, communal professionals and rabbis serving the Jewish community? What if subsidies were available to pay decent wages for those now staffing services that assist the Jewish community in a manner related to their Judaism?

We live in a golden city and could produce a truly Golden Age of energetic,

creative and purposeful Jewish life here. Are we ready? I would hope so.

Professor Gerald Bubis is the founding director of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Presently he is vice president and fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and adjunct professor of social work at USC.

Rabbi Laura Geller
“A year off between high school and college to volunteer for a Jewish “Peace Corps.”

What if we could change the culture so that most American Jewish teenagers took a year off between high school and college to volunteer for a Jewish “Peace Corps” in the United States or somewhere around the world? What if this year of service was organized in such a way that these young Jewish people would be placed in meaningful work situations with social justice or social service organizations so that they would be serving the larger community? What if, at the same time, they would be living together with other Jewish young people, studying Jewish texts about justice, making decisions together about Shabbat and kashrut, and reflecting together on the work they were each doing?

What if that year were sufficiently funded so that these young Jewish people could earn enough money to live (and maybe even save something for college), and that the program could support the training and placement of spiritual mentors, counselors and resident advisers who would live with the participants? What if other young Jews around the same age from all over the world, including Israelis (before army service), also participated in the program so that all these young people came to understand the reality of Jewish peoplehood simply by living, working, learning and becoming friends with Jewish people from different backgrounds?

Maybe then … our kids would actually be ready for college when they got there, because they would have come to understand that to be a mensch isn’t measured by SAT scores.

Maybe then… these young people would have a better understanding of the world, because they would have lived in another culture. And they would be more grateful for all the privileges that they have because they will have worked with people who have so much less.

Maybe then … they would feel more able to make a difference in the world. And they would feel part of the Jewish people, because they would have developed deep and lasting relationships with Jews from other countries and other perspectives.

Maybe then … they would be turned on to Torah study, and understand how profound the connection between Jewish learning and living can be.

And maybe then … the foundation of their future Jewish lives would be enriched by an experience that transformed their lives.

Laura Geller is senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
“A community-funded, community-owned and community-operated House of Torah Learning.”

I dream that one day, Los Angeles Jewry will have the vision to create a community-funded, community-owned and community-operated House of Torah Learning. This centrally located House of Learning would not be Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Persian, Israeli or Russian. It would belong to the entire Jewish community. Its common agenda, ideology and language will be one and the same — Torah study. It would offer no academic degrees, no rabbinic ordination and no teaching diplomas. There would be no prayer services, no “prestigious fellowships,” and no one rabbi would be called “the rabbi” in this building. This House of Learning would be open to every Jew, irrespective of background, age group or financial status.

In this House of Learning, Jews would seek spirituality through the intellect, finding God in a page of Talmud. Singles would ask each other out on a “study date,” and would meet at the House of Learning to get to know each other over a Midrashic text. Lay leaders would gather there to take a break from community meetings, and at the end of the night, new ideas would be inspired and born out of an intense study of Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed. Newlywed lovers would spend a few hours reading Yehuda Ha-Levi’s poems and S.Y. Agnon’s stories, and parents would sit with their children and study Rashi’s commentary to the Torah. Text study would no longer be the realm of a select few rabbis and scholars, but it would belong to everybody. It would suddenly be cool to sit and study text, and the House of Learning would become L.A. Jewry’s hottest hangout. The new Jewish greeting in Los Angeles will be, “Hi, how are you, and what are you learning these days?”

Daniel Bouskila is rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.


Janice Kamenir-Reznik
“The Circuit Rabbis’ services would be provided free of charge.”

All too often, affiliated Jews and the leaders who serve them, become territorial. This territorialism often clouds the greater sense of purpose of what it should mean to be a Jew or a Jewish leader. Their priority becomes the survival or success of their particular institution, rather than a desire also to serve the broader community or to propose a broader and grander Jewish message. Such behavior presents a special problem in Los Angeles because the Jewish community is so large and dispersed — and because it takes a lot to stimulate people to positive Jewish action in Los Angles’ Hollywood-centered society. Thus, dynamic leaders and dynamic programs need to be even more dynamic.

Here’s one potential remedy: The community could hire 10 outstanding rabbis and/or other leaders to serve as “Circuit Rabbis.” They would travel to various L.A. venues, providing dynamic impetus to stimulate new programs in existing institutions. The Circuit Rabbis would have no bond whatsoever to any existing institution; nor would they have to fundraise as part of their jobs. Their only objective would be to serve as a resource and to work together with the synagogue and organizational leaders and rabbis to improve and elevate programming, learning, and Jewish life. The Circuit Rabbis would be cutting-edge thinkers and effective, collaborative and dynamic doers.

The Circuit Rabbis’ services would be provided free of charge, inasmuch as this program would be underwritten by visionary and generous members of the Jewish community.

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is president of Jewish World Watch.

John R. Fishel
“Our mission is to work toward true community.”

A recent issue of Commentary Magazine contains a provocative article by two well-known Jewish scholars. They hypothesize that the concept of Jewish peoplehood is becoming rarer as efforts to stress individualistic approaches to Judaism and Jewish life in the U.S. increase.

This dilemma manifests itself visibly in Los Angeles. We live here as associated Jews in a vast expanse, but are we a “community” at all or merely a highly diverse group of individuals? Do we coalesce in a meaningful way or are we just occasionally bound together by religious or political ideology, geographic residence or, perhaps, ethnic origin?

I believe our mission is to work toward true community.

A Los Angeles Jewish community that could meld the entrepreneurial creative energies and dynamic singular expressions of Jewish identity with the traditional strength of a collective concern for all Jews as a people, regardless of their beliefs, could set the tone for a potential revolution across the country.

John R. Fishel is president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

 

Letters


Middle-Class Squeeze
Each year, the Jewish community bemoans the high cost of a day school education, while touting its value with subjective quote, such as, “Population studies have shown that day school alumni are more likely to retain a lifelong affiliation rate with Judaism and to educate their own kids Jewishly.” Objective statistics somehow are never included to support those claims.

In fact, commitment to Judaism stems from the home, not the school. If it appears that day school graduates are more dedicated, the likelihood is that they come from homes where Jewish values and observance are a priority. Those same graduates, had they attended supplemental schools, would be just as likely to become stalwart adult members of the Jewish community, without having impoverished their families in the process.

Despite the wonderful work being done by people like Miriam Prum-Hess, there will never be enough money to enable the vast majority of middle-class families to utilize day schools. That’s because there are other very worthy causes, such as caring for the elderly, indigents, immigrants and the Land of Israel, that also deserve additional funding.

Unlike those other causes though, there is a day school alternative — the supplemental school. Supplemental schools are far more affordable, can usually provide financial assistance and offer classes for kindergarten through 12th grade. Synagogues generally provide the kindergarten through seventh-grade components, while community schools, such as the Los Angeles Hebrew High School (LAAHS), offer classes for students in eighth through 12th grade. On June 12, LAHHS graduated 68 students from its five-year program. This is its 55th graduating class.

Regretfully, during the past decade, many synagogues have downsized their Hebrew school programs from three days per week to two days or less, deeming them unattractive to committed families. Returning those programs back to their initial stature will provide middle-class families with a viable alternative that won’t drive them to the poor house.

The Jewish community must refocus its efforts and resources to bolster supplemental education. Synagogues must revisit the curricula of their schools to assure that their students receive a rigorous and robust Jewish education.

Finally, the Bureau of Jewish Education must raise its standards for accreditation of supplemental schools. Once synagogue-based Hebrew schools provide the level of Jewish education that they did in their glory days, middle-class families will no longer find it necessary to make great financial sacrifices when raising children, and a quality Jewish education will be accessible for all.

Leonard M. Solomon
Trustee

Los Angeles Hebrew High School
One practical solution to balance budgets and save is to move to nice, affordable areas of good value and build satellite communities as we are doing in Tehachapi (“Middle-Class Squeeze,” June. 9). The Kern County Kehilla is providing for the needs of the local Jewish population and has the guidance of the rabbis affiliated with the Orthodox Union, Agudah and Chabad.

Roger M. Pearlman
Tehachapi, Calif.

Define Holocaust
I note the reference in the article on the academic achievements of young Kenny Gotlieb that he is a grandson of a survivor of the “Polish Holocaust” (“Seniors’ Deeds Pave Path for Future,” June 9). Excuse me, but can someone explain to me what is a “Polish Holocaust?”

Is this suggesting that the majority of Holocaust victims were Poles? Or is it supposed to imply that the Holocaust was created by Poles? Surely neither of these. Is it supposed to mean that the Holocaust largely took place in Poland occupied by Nazi Germany? If so, then please say so.

I am afraid that this constant coupling of the word “Holocaust” with the word “Poland” makes the young people of today forget that the author of the Holocaust was Nazi Germany, whose armies conquered most of Europe and imposed the genocide of the Jews throughout the Continent. So please call it the “Nazi Holocaust” or the “European Holocaust,” or best of all, just “The Holocaust” (for there was only one) and not “Polish Holocaust.”

Wiktor Moszczynski
Via e-mail

Kashrut
It is unfortunate that the Jewish media is all too willing to jump on a bandwagon of kosher-bashing Rob Eshman and The Forward before him are being guided not by Jewish law and ethics but by the standards of Whole Foods and PETA (“But Is It Kosher,” June 9). PETA has consistently advocated that “meat is murder” and compared factory farming chickens to the mass murder of Jews in the Shoah. Any shechitah [kosher slaughter] is going to be deemed unkosher in their eyes.

Precisely because of the Jewish values Eshman refers to, Nathan Lewin, attorney for [Aaron] Rubashkin, and supervising rabbis hired independent investigators. They interviewed dozens of employees and found the allegations [of slaughter-house cruelty and mistreatment of employees] to be without merit. To summarize, “AgriProcessors, faithful to Torah ethics, provides an environment where its employees are treated with justice.”

Why are Jewish journalists giving a greater benefit of the doubt to PETA than to the companies that provide kosher meat and the rabbis who supervise them? The negative repercussions of such criticism amongst both the Jewish and non-Jewish world are self-evident. I would direct your readers to the recent edition of the Jewish Press to hear Lewin’s full account.

It would be nice if Rob Eshman were to shy away from articles critical of his fellow Jews. But, if he cannot resist the burning journalistic desire to attack, I would hope that he would put more energy toward presenting a balanced view.

Matthew Lefferman
Los Angeles

Mikvah
In the June 2 edition, a lengthy article by Amy Klein was published, featuring the use of the mikvah at the University of Judaism. It was a very instructive article but somewhat incomplete. The article failed to recognize the function of the Rabbinical Assembly Bet Din, which has been long established and meets at the University of Judaism (“Court Seeks to Ease Way for Conversions”).

The Rabbinical Assembly Bet Din serves conversion candidates of all persuasions and not only those of the Conservative movement. Candidates come to the Bet Din of the Rabbinical Assembly from throughout the Pacific Southwest area and even from other states or countries.

We are very proud of the Rabbinical Assembly Bet Din and the good work it has done for the past many years. We are especially appreciative of the wonderful rabbis who give of their time and expertise to serve on this Bet Din.

Richard Spiegel
President
Rabbinical Assembly
Pacific Southwest Region

Holocaust Remembered
In your May 19 letters section, Ilana Zadok asks, “Where were the American Jews [during the Holocaust]?”

For her information, hundreds of thousands of us were in the U.S. Army, Navy and Marines fighting Hitler and his allies. Of the nine-man B-17 crew of which I was the navigator, two others were also Jews: the pilot and the ball-turret gunner.

The lead pilot on my group’s Berlin raid of Feb. 3, 1945, when we scored direct hits on Hitler’s central command offices, was Col. Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal of Brooklyn, who was flying his 52nd bombing mission, a record for the 100th Bomb Group. Rosie’s plane was shot down, but he and his crew parachuted behind the advancing Soviet lines and all returned safely.

The U.S. Eighth Air Force had begun attacking Germany in late 1942 as the Nazi campaign of genocide against the Jews and Gypsies intensified and the concentration camps became slaughterhouses. Thousands of American Jews died on the battlefields in World War II, and it is unfair to imply that the American Jews did nothing.

Leon Schwartz
Altadena

South Central Farm
I have been following the battle over the South Central Farm for some time and am disgusted at today’s outcome (“Ecohustle Blooms in Community Garden,” June 2). Developer [Ralph] Horowitz’s intransigent position and accusations of anti-Semitism do great harm to us all. It is past time for someone of influence to intercede. Where is his rabbi? Or his mother?

Curt Wechsler
Via e-mail

Kosher
From reputation and general veneration, I had always believed Rabbi Jacob Pressman to be an intelligent and reliable community leader. Reading his foolish letter this past week convinced me I was wrong on all counts (Is It Kosher?” June 16).

Pressman would have us believe that there is some Orthodox cabal controlling the purse strings of the literally hundreds of kashrut supervising agencies; that a group of black-hatted, white-bearded rebbes control the bank accounts and policies of these “for profit” groups — this is America after all — shades of the protocols! And all that has to be done to properly fund day schools is to divert these funds to cover the schools’ budgets, how simple and how asinine and misleading. Shame on you Rabbi Pressman. You do know better!

Growing up in L.A., I know that neither Pressman nor his Conservative (and Reform) colleagues contributed one whit to kashrut observance in this city. There were no restaurants or widespread bakery products available while he was in his prime, so he has nothing to say. Sit back and enjoy your Oreos!

As regards high and truly unbearable tuition rates in our city, there is a simple solution, one that both the secular rabbinate and The Jewish Journal oppose — vouchers. I and my fellow community members pay thousands in taxes to fund a public school system that we choose not to use. Can’t we get some credit?

Howard Weiss
Los Angeles

Nature of Kashrut
I enjoyed reading Rob Eshman’s article (“But Is It Kosher,” June 9), which detailed the controversy that followed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) with the Orthodox Union over kosher slaughter practices, and AgriProcessors’ questionable treatment of its own workers. Most interesting to me was the latter part of the article, which tried to discuss the nature of kashrut.

The article quotes scholar Meir Soloveichik as calling the nature of kashrut “mysterious and obvious … the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.” In other words, it is to let the non-Jew know that we are special and follow laws meant to “set us apart and elevate our souls.”

Then in the last breath of the article, Eshman recommends that “the kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.” In other words, kosher should mean that universal standards of humane treatment are being met, standards that any reasonable person would want.

So, which is it? Do we follow kashrut to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world or to encourage the rest of the world to join with us? It can’t be both.

Les Amer
Los Angeles

Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein, highlights a major lapse in common knowledge about Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust. I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Fran but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany.

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern-day Theobald?

Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors .

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angles

DaVinci Code
Enjoyed your articles on “The DaVinci Code,” (May 19), but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
Via e-mail

Converts
As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967, and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130-year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room, and I was the only person who had had a first holy communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife, Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F Rohde
Los Angelesn

Correction
In the June 16 issue, the photo accompanying the story, “Jewish World Watch Eyes National Stage,” was taken by Alicia Bergman.

 

Briefs


Presbyterian Church Fixes Divestment Damage
Two years after it angered Jews by passing a resolution calling for divestment from Israel, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is trying to undo the damage.

At this year’s General Assembly in Birmingham, a church committee agreed Saturday night to ask the full assembly to replace its 2004 resolution calling for “phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel” with a policy of “corporate engagement” that would restrict investments in Israel, the Gaza Strip and West Bank to peaceful pursuits. The full assembly was to vote on the resolution Wednesday.

The committee overwhelmingly agreed to the motion after days of deliberation in which it held open hearings and heard dozens of proposals.

Although the resolution does not formally rescind divestment, most took it to mean that the drive toward divestment had been stopped, and that the call for “corporate engagement” shows a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolution approved by the church’s peacemaking and international issues committee:

  • Calls on the church to restrict its investments that relate to Israel, Gaza, eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank to peaceful pursuits;
  • Urges peaceful cooperation among Israelis, Americans and Palestinians, and Jews, Muslims and Christians;
  • Calls for dismantling Israel’s West Bank security barrier where it ventures beyond the pre-1967 boundary;
  • Aims to submit these proposals to U.S., Israeli and Palestinian politicians and religious leaders.

Klimt Paintings to Leave LACMA
Los Angeles’ loss is New York’s gain, with the sale by local resident Maria Altmann of an iconic Gustav Klimt painting to the Big Apple’s Neue Galerie, owned by Jewish cosmetics heir and philanthropist Ronald Lauder.

The gold-flecked 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Altmann’s aunt, was sold for a reported $135 million, the highest known price ever paid for a painting.

In addition to the portrait, four other Klimt paintings were recently returned to Altmann and her family by the Austrian government, after a seven-year legal and diplomatic battle waged by Los Angeles attorney E. Randol Schoenberg.

The art works were seized from the Bloch-Bauer family by the Nazis, after their takeover of Austria in 1938.

Sale of the “Golden Adele” is a cultural blow for Los Angeles, and especially the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), which is currently exhibiting all five Klimt paintings.

LACMA tried hard to keep the collection intact and permanently on home grounds, but was unable to come up with the necessary funds.

Altmann, a lively 90-year-old Cheviot Hills resident, is now planning a trip to Europe with her grandchildren, but doesn’t plan to change her lifestyle.

“I’ll stay in the house where I’ve lived for 30 years, keep driving my ’92 Ford, and I don’t need any new clothing,” she told The Journal in an interview earlier this year.

Angelenos have one more week to view the Klimt collection at the LACMA exhibit, which closes June 30. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Ethiopian Immigration to Israel to Remain Flat?
An Israeli ministerial committee recommended that the government postpone a decision to double the number of Falash Mura allowed into Israel from Ethiopia. The Falash Mura are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity and who are now returning to Judaism. The government decided several years ago to increase the number allowed into Israel each month, from 300 to 600. However, the decision was never implemented, and the committee said the move should be postponed further because of financial considerations. The recommendation comes as Israel’s High Court of Justice is set to hear a petition next week on the government’s failure to expedite the aliyah.

Reform Movement Center Opens in Jaffa
The Reform movement in Israel inaugurated a $12 million cultural center in Jaffa on Sunday. The facility, to be opened officially in October, will be called Mishkenot Daniel. The decision to put it in Jaffa was part of the movement’s efforts to reach out to middle- and working-class families in Jaffa and Tel Aviv. The inauguration coincided with the first annual convention of the Association of Reform Zionists in Israel to be held in the Jewish state. The center is to include a youth hostel, auditorium, classrooms and a synagogue. Some prominent American Jews have donated to its building, and Israeli Reform movement officials hope local Reform congregants will help raise additional funds for the complex.

Israel Expands Residency Law
Israel expanded a law granting residency to children of non-Jewish foreign workers. On Sunday, the Cabinet approved a proposal by Interior Minister Ronnie Bar-On to ease the minimum age requirement for children whose parents work legally in Israel and who want to become citizens themselves. Previously, only children who were born in Israel or arrived before age 10 were eligible, but the bar has now been raised to 14. Other requirements for candidates are that they speak Hebrew and have lived in Israel for at least six years. After completing mandatory military service, they will become eligible for citizenship. The amendment was opposed by Cabinet ministers from the Shas Party, which said it would threaten Israel’s demographic balance. But Bar-On argued that it applied to only a few-hundred potential candidates.

Kosher Restaurant to Open in Turkey
Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that Silence Park, a new holiday resort to be launched in the city of Antalya next month, includes a glatt kosher restaurant, the first in Turkey. The restaurant will serve both meat and dairy meals, using both local fare and products imported from Israel. Antalya is especially popular with Israeli vacationers given its geographical proximity and cheap prices.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Letters 06-16-2006


Is It Kosher?
I applaud and appreciate that you were ready to take off the gloves and attack what merits attack, but I fear you left one on (“But Is It Kosher?” June 9). You were too much of a gentleman.

I understand that you were courageously tilting against the strongest and wealthiest single entity in the Jewish world, second only to the state of Israel: the kashrut entity. Think of all the products that bear the kosher seal — from my delicious Oreo cookies to my bottled spring water (water?) to my milk from Ralph’s. Think of the add-on for personal supervision on the premise by mashgihim at all the kosher events in town. Consider the kosher wine industry, and the Passover product annual gouging orgy, and I come to a guesstimate that we are talking about millions, perhaps billions of dollars in profits for some people somewhere.

Understand, I benefit from the many reassurances that I am consuming kosher products. If along the way some of those involved are misleading me, the transgression is on their heads.

However, the issue of money leads me to another excellent article in the same Journal: the problem of funding Jewish education, especially day schools, so as not to deny such schooling to those who cannot meet the high cost (“The Middle Class Squeeze”).

What I am proposing now is that the collective Orthodox community take the huge profits from kashrut in which we are all consumers, and feed that money back into education. It happens that the majority of all-day schools are Orthodox and it would behoove the Orthodox community to investigate what is happening with all the enormous profits in the kashrut industry which they have arrogated unto themselves and hopefully are reporting every penny to the IRS.

As to misconduct, which always seems to happen in huge human endeavors, let the Jewish community not be guilty of suppressing information and sheltering misconduct in the religious establishment as some other great religious establishments are doing.

There, Rob Eshman, I have taken off both gloves, and I hope that from the pivotal position you have in L.A. Jewry’s primary information source you will succeed where I have not in elevating the sacred regulation of kashrut to what it should be, namely: to guarantee to all Jewish children whose families devoutly wish to provide them with a high quality, deeply Jewish-rooted education, the opportunity to receive it at our hands.

Rabbi Jacob Pressman
Rabbi Emeritus
Temple Beth Am

It seems that “kosher” has devolved into a mere technicality, a trend which needs to be reversed. Jewish law forbids cruelty to animals, as they are part of God’s creation. We now know that the OU heksher does not signify a cruelty-free slaughter. We are forced to awaken from our slumber of ignorance and indifference.

We must follow the lead of Whole Foods and not buy Rubashkin’s products. (There are other kosher brands available.) And we must do this until kosher means kosher once again.

Sue Roth
Los Angeles

Bravo to editor-in-chief Rob Eshman for bringing up the controversial subject of meat labeled “kosher” but which derives from animals treated inhumanely in plants where workers are exploited. There is significant room for improvement in another segment of the kosher industry, as well — prepared foods. I have long struggled to feed my children healthy kosher food. It’s not easy! There is not one brand of kosher chicken broth that doesn’t contain MSG. The one brand of kosher powdered chicken broth without MSG contains partially hydrogenated oils, also known as “transfats,” which are now universally understood to be the most unhealthy fat of all and which have recently been cut out of the recipes from most major brands of baked goods. Almost every “kosher for Passover” cake, brownie or cookie mix available in the supermarkets and kosher markets I shopped in this year also contained transfats.

Feeding our Jewish children healthy kosher food we can feel good about shouldn’t be such a struggle. How about it, Maneshevitz and Streits? Why not remove the unhealthful additives and sell us foods that are truly “kosher”?

Stephanie Gold
Los Angeles

Welcoming Converts
The non-Jewish spouses of Jews often feel unwelcome in Jewish circles. Synagogues ostracize them. Rabbis ignore them. Families insult them. Spouses call them by ugly names. It’s no wonder that they don’t explore the possibility of becoming Jewish.

If Jews are proud of our Jewish tradition, then we should practice our values of generosity, kindness, warmth and inclusiveness with the non-Jews who are close to our community. Why drive pro-Jewish partners away?

I appreciated The Journal’s cover story on June 2 about “Court Seeks to Ease Way for Conversions.” It demonstrates a concrete way in which a unique transdenominational beit din is genuinely welcoming candidates for conversion into the total Jewish community. This community beit din will not embarrass or harass the non-Jews who seek to join the Jewish people.

Ninety Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist rabbis are associated with the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din (www.scbetdin.us). People can rely upon these rabbis to provide sensitive and constructive paths into conversion.

Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein
Secretary
Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California

The Journal’s articles on conversion were excellent. During my years of experience with converts to Judaism, I have discovered the reason that so many converts backslide or no longer show the interest in Judaism they once had is because of the indifference and apathy their Jewish spouses have toward Judaism and its traditions. When one converts to Judaism, he or she is excited to celebrate Shabbat and Jewish holidays, go to synagogue weekly and keep some level of kosher observance. Unfortunately, after the conversion has taken place, the Jewish spouse thinks their former non-Jewish partner has now become “too Jewish” and discourages observance so that the convert’s enthusiasm for Judaism is dampened.

In our program, we encourage the Jewish partner to take our class with the potential convert, but many times the Jewish partner for various reasons refuses to enroll. However, when the Jewish and non-Jewish partners take our class together, they get closer, more knowledgeable and observant of Judaism. At the end of our program we have not only converted the non-Jew to Judaism, but also the Jewish partner, as well.

Rabbi Neal Weinberg
Director and Instructor
Judith and Louis Miller
Introduction to Judaism Program
University of Judaism

As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967 and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130 year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room and I was the only person who had had a First Holy Communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F Rohde
Los Angeles

Middle-Class Squeeze
Are education tax credits (let alone publicly funded school vouchers) so politically anathema to the Jewish community that they escape mention in a 3,000 word article subtitled “What Can Be Done to Make Jewish Day Schools More Affordable?” (June 9)?

Tax credit schemes avoid elements typically cited as objectionable by opponents of voucher plans. No money is conveyed by the government to private schools, either directly or indirectly. Since every dollar allocated to qualifying recipients is the product of a voluntary contribution, it cannot be argued that “my tax dollars are underwriting the operation of schools whose purposes I do not support.” And as for those who argue that tax credits divert scarce resources from public education, cannot the same be said of Jewish day school enrollment?

If supporting and augmenting enrollment in our Jewish day schools is regarded as a fitting community priority, on what grounds are education tax credits viewed as treif?

Dr. Ron Reynolds
Van Nuys

Each year, the Jewish community bemoans the high cost of a day school education, while touting its value with subjective quotes such as “Population studies have shown that day school alumni are more likely to retain a lifelong affiliation rate with Judaism and to educate their own kids Jewishly.” Objective statistics somehow are never included to support those claims.

In fact, commitment to Judaism stems from the home, not the school. If it appears that day school graduates are more dedicated, the likelihood is that they come from homes where Jewish values and observance are a priority. Those same graduates, had they attended supplemental schools, would be just as likely to become stalwart adult members of the Jewish community, without having impoverished their families in the process.

Despite the wonderful work being done by people like Miriam Prum-Hess, there will never be enough money to enable the vast majority of middle class families to utilize day schools. That’s because there are other very worthy causes, such as caring for the elderly, indigents, immigrants and the Land of Israel, that also deserve additional funding.

Unlike those other causes though, there is a day school alternative∑ the supplemental school. Supplemental schools are far more affordable, can usually provide financial assistance, and offer classes for kindergarten through 12th grade. Synagogues generally provide the kindergarten through seventh grade components, while community schools such as the Los Angeles Hebrew High School (LAAHS), offer classes for students in eighth through 12th grade. On June 12, LAHHS will graduate 68 students from its five-year program. This is its 55th graduating class.

Regretfully, during the past decade, many synagogues have downsized their Hebrew school programs from three days per week to two days or less, deeming them unattractive to committed families. Returning those programs back to their initial stature will provide middle-class families with a viable alternative that won‚t drive them to the poor house.

The Jewish community must refocus its efforts and resources to bolster supplemental education. Synagogues must revisit the curricula of their schools to assure that their students receive a rigorous and robust Jewish education. Finally, the Bureau of Jewish Education must raise its standards for accreditation of supplemental schools. Once synagogue-based Hebrew schools provide the level of Jewish education that they did in their glory days, middle-class families will no longer find it necessary to make great financial sacrifices when raising children, and a quality Jewish education will be accessible for all.

Leonard M. Solomon
Trustee
Los Angeles Hebrew High School

UCLA Palestine Week
As a student leader at UCLA, I was disappointed with the coverage of the recent campus anti-Zionism Awareness week (“UCLA Jews, Muslims Alter Protest Tactics” June 2). Unfortunately, the article implied that Jewish and Muslim students were the only major campus groups involved in these events and avoided discussion of the recent positive steps toward dialogue between our respective communities.

June 2, at noon, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) along with Hillel and other student communities of faith, assembled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for distribution to the homeless on skid row. That evening, members of MSA joined our community at Hillel for Shabbat Shavuot featuring a discussion with Dr. Nayer Ali on Islam. On June 5, MSA and the UCLA Jewish Student Union (JSU) broke bread together at an event marking the first time kosher/halal meals have been available to dormitory residents at UCLA, due to the successful year-long campaign organized by leadership of both JSU and MSA.

For the alarmists of our community, there exists a fervently anti-Zionist and often anti-Semitic campus community more numerous and less nuanced than our Muslim cousins. Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), a sponsor of UCLA’s anti-Zionism week, and other Mexican-American empowerment groups see the Israel/Palestinian conflict as white male oppressors asserting their dominance over women and children of color and draw parallels between the occupation of Palestine and the occupation of Aztlán (Southwestern U.S. ceded after the Mexican-American War). Chicana/o students tend to invoke charges of deicide grounded in the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic tradition and have been more vocally anti-Semitic, claiming the “Jews are the criminals” responsible for the plight of immigrant communities at a rally in April, for example.

We, as the Los Angeles Jewish community, have an obligation to promote education and dialogue efforts reaching the Chicana/o community and other communities of color who tend to have less nuance and far more misconceptions about Jews and Israel than members of the Arab and Muslim communities.

Andy Green
President Emeritus
Hillel at UCLA (2005-2006)

The Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein , highlights a major lapse in common knowledge abou Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust.( I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Frank, but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany)

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern day Theobald? Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today, do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors .

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angles

Polish Holocaust
I note the reference in the article on the academic achievements of young Kenny Gotlieb that he is a grandson of a survivor of the “Polish Holocaust” (“Seniors’ Deeds Pave Path for Future,” June 9). Excuse me, but can someone explain to me what is a “Polish Holocaust?”?Is this suggesting that the majority of Holocaust victims were Poles? Or is it supposed to imply that the Holocaust was created by Poles? Surely neither of these. Is it supposed to mean that the Holocaust largely took place in Poland occupied by Nazi Germany? If so, then please say so. I am afraid that this constant coupling of the word “Holocaust” with the word “Poland” makes the young people of today forget that the author of the Holocaust was Nazi Germany whose armies conquered most of Europe and imposed the genocide of the Jews throughout the continent. So please call it the Nazi Holocaust or the European Holocaust, or best of all, just “The Holocaust” (for there was only one) and not “Polish Holocaust.”

Wiktor Moszczynski
Via e-mail

Da Vinci Code
Enjoyed your articles of the DaVinci Code, but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
Via e-mail

Correction
In “Seniors’ Deeds Pave Path for Future,” (June 9) Ruben Zweiban was sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys).

 

Passover Fest Offers Many Paths to Fun


At a time when hundreds of thousands of protesters crowded downtown chanting “Let My People Stay,” Passover may be resonating more acutely across all racial and ethnic groups than it has in recent years.

It is not only illegal immigrants for whom the Passover tale holds appeal. The story of the Exodus can be easily updated for any of the numerous people in the Third World seeking freedom from oppression. That is why Craig Taubman, who has produced events like Sunday Funday at the Ford Theater, has broadened the scope of Let My People Sing, his inaugural Passover festival, to include a seder on behalf of those suffering in Darfur. That is also why he has included musicians like Ani, a Malaysian Muslim, and Joshua Nelson, an African American who says he descends from the Jews of Senegal.

Every program is free, except for the seders, the profits of which go to building medical and water facilities in Darfur, said Taubman, who adds that at all the events people will receive gifts.

The eight-day festival actually takes place over 12 days. It kicked off on April 4 with a Clippers basketball game. Some of the festival participants sang the “National Anthem” at the Staples Center; others will play in basketball tournaments on the last day of the fest, April 16, at Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, a recreational property that Genie Benson, one of the organizers, refers to as “the best kept secret in L.A.”

Benson, executive director of Keshet Chaim, an Israeli folk ballet dance ensemble, is spearheading Let My People Rock, a full-day finale at Brandeis-Bardin. While some kids play hoops, others will replicate the Exodus by going on a trek through the 3,000-acre hilly property, led by an individual resembling Moses. Benson says that there will be a number of surprises along the way. That’s not including the different “culture” tents, such as a Moroccan tent and a Persian tent that simulate a Middle Eastern village. Or the giant sand sculpture being carved by Kirk Rademaker, an interactive environmental artist. Or the performances by the Israeli rap group, Hadag Nachash, and singers Rick Recht and Nelson.

Nelson may hail most recently from East Orange, N.J., but he traces his Jewish ancestry back to the West Coast of Africa. The 29-year-old singer, who sings and composes what he calls kosher gospel, soul music with Jewish liturgy, has been performing since his bar mitzvah. He was 18 when he released his first CD.

Nelson says that Jews of African descent, by which he means not only Falash Mura from Ethiopia but also Ugandan Jews, Nigerian Jews and Lemba Jews from Southern Africa, view Passover as the New Year because it celebrates aviv, or the spring. Because of the obvious parallels to black slavery, Nelson says that African Americans, irrespective of their religion, identify with the Jews in the Passover story.

So do many Muslims of different racial backgrounds. Ani, who will be singing passages from the Quran with the backing of the A.M.E. Church Gospel Choir at the Islamic Center of Southern California, said that, “Islam is very inclusive of all faiths, especially of the Abrahamic faiths.”

Ani has performed at many interfaith gatherings in the past, including a Muslim-Jewish seder at Wilshire Boulevard Temple; she points out that all faiths have a version of the Passover story, a story about struggling for freedom. In a phone interview, she reads a passage from the Quran in which the Israelites flee Pharaoh so that they can worship Allah.

Beyond the inclusion of non-Jews in the program, Taubman has also planned events all around Los Angeles, whether it’s Koreatown, the locale of the Islamic Center for Ani’s event, UCLA Hillel for the Darfur seder, Pasadena for a Raise the Roof performance by Rick Recht’s band, or the West Valley for the Let My People Rock freedom walk.

Nor is he limiting the entertainment to song, dance and basketball. There will also be comedy. Comedian Joel Chasnoff will perform on Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15.

Chasnoff, 31, hopes that attendees “come out with a different view on Judaism” than they had before the show. For Chasnoff, the humor, even absurdity, of Judaism is in its “strange details.” For instance, he likes to talk about the hilarity of keeping kosher in the modern era. Boiling calves and milk may have been routine in 1906, but these practices sound almost alien in 2006.

If these kind of observations remind one of Jerry Seinfeld’s brand of humor, that is not surprising because Chasnoff admires Seinfeld’s dedication to writing. Chasnoff, who once opened for Jon Stewart and cites the “Daily Show” host as another comic influence, will also regale audience members with tales of Jewish guilt. One favorite line of his mother’s: “If my son worked just a little bit harder, I, too, could have an honor roll student.”

Like Chasnoff, many of the organizers and performers cite family as the common theme to Passover. Benson, the organizer of the finale at Brandeis, points out that Passover is uniquely participatory for everyone, children, adults, even strangers. She remembers how her father “always rented a room and invited everyone. No one had to pay. Just like now.”

Everyone may have participated, but she says that her father, in not charging anyone, was not being altruistic so much as trying to control the nature of the seder.

As her father would say, “When everyone contributes, everyone has an opinion.”

Let My People Sing, which opened with a Clippers game on April 4, continues through April 16. For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=15273

 

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 http://www.jewishjournal.com/local/KosherEats.php for links.

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

 

Fundraiser to Benefit Storm Victims


This Sunday, September 18th!

LALA & MOE’S

Jewish Experience & The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Present:

LA Jewish Katrina Benefit

All Proceeds To Benefit Jewish Federation’s Hurricane Relief Fund

Featuring:

The Moshav Band

Comic Relief by:

Edgar Fox
Avi Leiberman
Plus Special Guests

Silent Auction, Special Prize Drawing, Kosher Food, And More!

Sunday September 18th 2005
3:00 – 7:00 PM
Westside Jewish Community Center
5870 W Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles Ca, 90036

$25 Adults
$15 Students & Families
Space is Limited

For More information Contact:

Danwitz@LMJE.org

Community Sponsors Include:

Anti-Defamation League
Aish Ha-Torah
Ashreinu
Congregation Beth Jacob
Congregation B’nei David Judea
Congregation Mogen David
Isralight
Jewish big brothers
Jflicks
Los Angeles Hillel Council
The Chai Center
The Westwood Kehilla
Young Israel of Century City
And Many More

 

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 jessica_ravitz@yahoo.com.

Prices Too Low to Be Kosher


 

Illyse Zesch likes to start her Passover shopping early. So it isn’t surprising that, two weeks before the holiday, she made a trip with her fiancé — Rabbi Steve Conn of Santa Clarita’s Temple Beth Shalom — to the Kosher Club on Pico near La Brea, the largest kosher market in Los Angeles.

Among other things, the couple bought several bottles of kosher wine, some fresh lox, a variety of cheeses and a package of frozen gefilte fish. What they didn’t buy, however, was also noteworthy: no cake mix, macaroons, matzah or Passover candies.

Why?

“Those things we’re not getting here,” said Zesch, a 39-year-old attorney, “because we can get them cheaper at Ralphs or Albertsons.”

It happens every year, said Daryl Schwarz — who opened this 100 percent-kosher market in 1989 — only lately it’s been getting worse. Large supermarket and discount chains are able to undersell kosher specialty markets on the very products that, traditionally, have been the Jewish stores’ lifeblood. The chains can offer lower prices because they get volume discounts from kosher distributors. Or they can decide to forgo profit entirely on small-ticket kosher items, using below-cost discounts as a lure for shoppers, expected to buy more. Making money off kosher items is not essential to Ralphs; to Schwarz and other kosher merchants it’s a matter of survival.

Kosher products make up an astonishing percentage of the nation’s grocery bill — about $180 billion of a $500 billion total — though many consumers probably have no idea they are buying kosher. One supplier alone, Empire Kosher Poultry, processes 100,000 kosher birds (chickens and turkeys) per day for U.S. consumption. The kosher products industry is growing at a fairly steady rate of about 15 percent a year, said Menachem Lubinsky, editor of Kosher Today, an industry newsletter, with about 70 percent of the sales taking place through supermarkets or large chains. Competition from those chains, Lubinsky said, “is an issue that is now common in many different cities. The smaller markets, in a way, have to reinvent themselves to compete.”

Schwarz, of the Kosher Club, estimates that there are 20 to 30 small, independent kosher markets in greater Los Angeles. He believes that the number has shrunk slightly over the last five years, although he could identify only one market that had specifically shut down. Still, he insisted, the markets have had to scramble to survive.

Schwarz, for instance, has been forced to reshuffle his product mix by dropping or reducing the stock of items that customers are more likely to buy at lower prices elsewhere. One result is that some of his most loyal patrons are sometimes inconvenienced. But Schwarz has an even greater worry. “If the trend continues,” he said, “it will put the kosher markets out of business.”

He offers examples to illustrate his point. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southern California, he said, produces a certified kosher-for-Passover version of its soft drink, made with sugar instead of corn syrup. But, based on volume and various other marketing considerations, the product is offered at a major discount to big grocery chains. Which is why in this Passover season, Schwarz contends, Kosher Club customers can choose between buying kosher Coke from him at $1.29 a bottle or walking across the street to Ralphs where the price is just 99 cents.

“How can I compete with that?” Schwarz lamented.

Bob Phillips, a spokesman for Coca-Cola in Los Angeles, said pricing depends on an array of factors including volume, advertising, display, brand recognition and positioning. “We sell to about 225 outlets, including small, medium and large ones,” Phillips said, “and we are glad to do so. There is lots of availability.”

Schwarz also noted that he pays $11 a pound for handmade shmura matzah; customers can buy it at Ralphs for just $9 a pound. “They lose money on it,” he said of his across-the-street competitor. “They use it as loss leader to get kosher customers into the store.”

Last year, according to the Jewish grocer, the resulting shuffling of products ended up causing major headaches for Passover procrastinators after, anticipating a drop in demand for their own more expensive matzah, Schwarz and other kosher merchants significantly decreased their orders from distributors. But Ralphs — perhaps underestimating the same demand — ran out of shmura matzah two weeks before Passover. So observant Los Angeles Jews had to spend extravagant last-minute sums shipping the specialty item in by Federal Express from New York.

And finally, Schwarz says, comes the case of the chicken. Kosher Club buys it from Empire Kosher Poultry of Mifflintown, Pa., the largest purveyor of kosher poultry in the nation. And the store sells it too, at $9.99 for a large bag of breasts. The only problem is that Costco, buoyed by lower prices based on high volume and willing to sell the product at near cost, offers the identical bag of chicken for $6.99, the same price Schwarz pays to get it.

A large chain can get a better deal from suppliers said Elie Rosenfeld, an Empire spokesman. Beyond that, he said, the manufacturer bears little responsibility for what happens to its chicken at the store. “The profit margin and revenue stream that determines what a Costco or Albertsons charges,” he said, “is not something we can control. Running a larger operation allows them to price things the way they feel comfortable, whereas smaller markets need to create the margins they need.”

The bottom line, he said, is that “if Costco wants to put our product at a certain price, there’s not much we can do about it.”

Unlike Schwarz, however, the chicken purveyor isn’t overly concerned. “I don’t think the little markets are in trouble at all,” Rosenfeld said. “They have done an excellent job of serving the consumer market and there is always going to be a place for them…. There’s a difference between going into a neighborhood grocery that offers more personal-type attention, and going into a larger store like Costco or Albertsons that serves the community in a different way.”

Yet there’s little doubt, industry insiders attest, that big chains are going after kosher consumers in big ways. A prime example is Ralphs markets, which has about 250 stores in Southern California. “We’ve been offering kosher items since 1986,” spokesman Terry O’Neil said, “and over the last several years the company has really expanded its offerings outside just those stores that serve Jewish neighborhoods. What we’ve found is that a lot of people who are not Jewish, for health or other reasons, are choosing to eat kosher.”

O’Neil declined to attach a dollar value to these sales, but the company, whose kosher offerings are overseen by several rabbis, has greatly increased the number of approved items it carries. During Passover and other holiday seasons, Ralphs stores stock literally thousands of such items.

“Our kosher customers,” O’Neil said, “are among our top customers in loyalty. We have studies showing that they spend significantly more than our other customers.”

Which is why Ralphs goes to such lengths to attract them. Among other things, O’Neil said, the company organizes several rabbi-led tours of selected facilities in the weeks preceding Passover. The tours are promoted in flyers placed in the stores as well as by mailings to 20,000 kosher customers and by advertisements in the Jewish press. The 15 tours this year each attracted 50-150 people, compared to 20-30 last year.

“This year,” O’Neil said, “has seen, by far, the most successful kosher tours and we’ve expanded them to more stores than ever before.”

And what about the fate of the smaller kosher market?

“I won’t comment on the competition,” O’Neil said without apology, “but I will tell you that it is our intention to be the supermarket of choice for the diversity that is Southern California. Whether that is the kosher customer or our Hispanic customers or our African American customers, we strive to have something in our supermarkets for everyone.”

All of which offends the sensibilities of some kosher merchants.

“The community should not rely on companies outside the community that aren’t committed,” said David Eskenazi, manager at the Kosher Club. “If you put all the kosher butchers out of business because they can’t compete with Ralphs, what do you do when Ralphs changes its policy, because it decides that it’s more interested in the Hispanic community?”

Carmela Geil, the Kosher Club’s controller added: “They can never do it as well as we can because we have the background. They’re very commercial, but it’s not the real McCoy.”

Many customers patronize the chains and the kosher markets, seeing value in each. Karen Avrech, of Los Angeles, said she’d just dropped $200 at Ralphs for a sundry of Passover items. But she completed her shopping at Kosher Club, Avrech said, because “they have a big selection” including some items she could find nowhere else. “Most people have to go to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Ralphs and the kosher markets,” she said. “It’s not just one-stop shopping.”

Added Zesch, Rabbi Conn’s fiancé: “You have to mix and match.”

Then came Jon Hambourger, surely God’s gift to a place like Kosher Club. “We do most of our shopping here,” the Los Angeles resident said, “because they have a good selection and good meat at good prices.”

But couldn’t he do better at Ralphs?

Hambourger wouldn’t know, he admitted, “Because I haven’t been in a supermarket in years. My perspective is that, as a community, we have an obligation to support Jewish merchants.”

His bottom line?

“Even if it means paying more,” he said, “I’d prefer shopping here.”

 

Pico’s Familiar Slice


The balabus is back.

Howard Weiss, who opened Los Angeles’s first kosher pizza shop in the mid 1970s, has reopened his famed Kosher Nostra, and he’s looking to reclaim the glory days of over-sized slices and relentless puns that made the first Kosher Nostra a community institution.

The new Nostra is a tiny storefront on Pico Boulevard east of La Cienega Boulevard, just a block or two outside the beaten path of kosher establishments on Pico.

Since he opened a couple months ago, Weiss said, he’s been living in something of a time warp. The kids whose fingers he used to slap off the counters come in with their own little ones. Teenagers who bore the brunt of Weiss’ temper when they piled into the place after a Saturday night YULA basketball game now come in as staid 30-somethings, awash in nostalgia (and with more money in their wallets).

But Weiss will need more than nostalgia to succeed in today’s kosher market.

When he opened 25 years ago, there were maybe five or six kosher restaurants around, including Pico Kosher Deli (est. 1968), Nosh N’ Rye and a couple of others, according to the Southern California Jewish Historical Society. By 1982, there were 15 kosher restaurants, marking the beginning of the growth spurt that would bring us to close 100 kosher eateries in Los Angeles and the Valley today.

At 71, Weiss, a Tevye lookalike with tired blue eyes and a bushy beard encroaching on his face, says he’s ready to work hard to compete, but the heavy sigh and the slow shrug that accompany his determination say otherwise.

His decade in Israel in the 1990’s hasn’t fully erased the pain of the collapse of his original kosher empire, which included Peking Tam, Pepe Tam and China on Rye, with branches in the city and the Valley. That expansion and an accompanying partnership went sour in 1990. The site of the old Kosher Nostra at Fairfax Avenue near Third Street became Pizza World, owned by Darren Melamed, Weiss’ longtime manager.

The new locale is decidedly more cramped, and Weiss is still working on the décor, but some things haven’t changed. As always, Weiss has staked out a corner table where he does crosswords and assaults diners with deadpan humor, although he’s taken "Marijuana Pizza: $45" off the new menu. Above him hangs the beaten-copper miniature storefront with the "Mikveh in Rear" sign and just to the right of the counter hangs Weiss’ own answers to FAQs — the original framed poster which he printed not on a computer long before there was such a thing as FAQs (and before the words "Kosher Nostra" Googled up an anti-Semitic email-propagated rumor).

It’s too early to say whether he’ll make it. This incarnation of Kosher Nostra might turn out to be just a historical hiccup. But in a kosher community that after 25 years of growth is just now reaching an age of maturity, there might be room for a bit of nostalgia, a bad Jewish mother joke and a slice of pizza that, even with all the competition, still holds its own.

Kibbitz


Summertime means baseball, barbecues and kosher dogs. Not the pups you throw on the grill, the ones you take for a walk. That’s right — man’s best friend is eating man’s best food. KosherPets, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based pet food company, offers up “kosher-style” pet chow for your Jewish cats and dogs.

When did Fido turn frum? Martine Lacombe and Marc Michaels began cooking for their Dalmatian, Lola, in 1998, when traditional veterinary medicine failed to cure her skin ailment. “We lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and always bought kosher meat,” Michaels said. “So we made Lola’s meals from Empire Chicken, rice, carrots and garlic, and followed kashrut rules while cooking it,” added the proud pet owner.

Lola healed quickly and shared her beauty secret with her dog park pals. The other dogs’ owners, who wintered in Florida and summered in New York, brought the “pet grub like bubbie used to make” to the left coast and caused a KosherPets Diaspora. “Our heads were spinning,” Michaels said. “The food took off and suddenly, we were shipping mason jars filled with kosher dog stew across the country,” he added.

Though neither Lacombe nor Michaels is Jewish, they are happy to serve the community and have immersed themselves in kosher culture. “We attend Kosherfest (the country’s largest kosher trade show), have met with rabbis from multiple certification agencies, and had our facility inspected by Rabbi Sholem Fishbane of the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC),” Michaels said.

KosherPets’ products never come in contact with dairy or dairy derivatives, are made chametz-free for Pesach (they received a CRC Passover-use endorsement), and are always prepared with meat from kosher species. (It is not necessary to have the meat certified by a mashgiach because it’s not for human consumption.)

Though they currently only sell beef-based patties, KosherPets is developing chicken-, turkey- and salmon-based recipes. And the chefs will soon be cooking for more than cats and canines. “We’ve received e-mails from so many different pet owners, that we’ll soon sell kosher bird, hamster, rabbit and even guinea pig food.” Michaels said.

If only KosherPets had been around to help out Noah on
his ark. For more information on KosherPets, visit