Man shoots himself in the leg at Zabar’s Jewish food emporium in New York


 A man waiting in line at Zabar’s, a mecca for Jewish foodies on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, accidentally shot himself in the leg.

The gun in the waistband of his pants discharged at the Zabar’s cafe on Tuesday morning, according to local reports. The man, identified as being 48 years old, fled the store and later took himself to a local hospital, DNAinfo reported.

He was taken into police custody for questioning. It is not known if he was carrying the gun legally.

The New York Post reported that the man had planned to rob the store, which specializes in smoked fish and gourmet food.

The cafe remained closed after the shooting, but the supermarket remained open, according to reports.

Streit’s Matzo factory may be converted into Manhattan condos


Developers are considering building condominiums on the historic former site of Streit’s Matzo factory in Manhattan.

Manhattan-based Cogswell Realty filed tentative plans with the New York attorney general’s office to build 45 residential condo units, a commercial condo and 26 storage units on the property, The Real Deal reported.

According to the attorney general, Cogswell filed a “CPS-1” application on December 3, which allows developers to “test the market” before officially filing a condo offering plan, the real estate publication reported.

Streit’s Matzo, a 90-year-old matzah-making facility at 148-154 Rivington Street in New York’s Lower East Side, closed up shop in May after the busy Passover baking season. The factory was the last producer of the unleavened Jewish bread in Manhattan.

“The economics just finally caught up with us,” Alan Adler, the owner of the factory and the Streit’s Matzo store, told JTA in January. “It was very sad, a very hard decision to make.”

Manhattan-based Cogswell Realty paid $30.5 million for the Lower East Side property. With Manhattan property prices shattering records — in July, the average cost of a Manhattan apartment approached $2 million — rumors of a pending condo development of the property immediately began to swirl.

Despite the wide-reaching gentrification and reinvention the Lower East Side, stalwarts of the neighborhood’s rich Jewish history remain, including Economy Candy and Russ and Daughters.

Menorah vandalized in New York City park


A large menorah was found vandalized on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Police found the menorah on its side with one half broken into pieces Monday morning at Carl Shurz Park on 86th Street and East End Avenue, two blocks from the mayor’s official residence at Gracie Mansion. They believe it had been toppled over on both Saturday and Sunday nights.

“Incidents like this have no place here or anywhere,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and Chabad of the Upper East Side lit the menorah in a highly attended ceremony Sunday night. They plan to lead another lighting at 8 p.m. Monday.

“Last night we gathered to kindle the menorah, bringing light to the world, and this morning we found that we were met by an act of darkness,” Rabbi Elie Weistock of Kehilath Jeshurun said Monday. “But light always overcomes darkness, and tonight we plan to light the menorah again.”

The New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the incident, WNBC in New York reported.

A different menorah was stolen from a Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue in Salt Lake City, Utah, over the weekend. It was found outside an alumni house at a nearby college.

The theft was not being investigated as a hate crime.

 

Rabbi Benny Zippel told The Associated Press that the perpetrators were likely just “bored souls” who did not mean to be anti-Semitic.

Where Jewish stars are shining this season


With Andy Samberg emceeing the Emmy Awards on Fox (Sept. 20) a week before his return in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” style maven Rachel Zoe hosting the weekly Lifetime talk show  “Fashionably Late” (Sept. 24), plus former kid stars Josh Peck and Fred Savage in the back-to-back Fox comedies “Grandfathered” and “The Grinder” (Sept. 29), and David Krumholtz in drag as a Boca Raton Jewish grandma in IFC’s “Gigi Does It” (Oct. 1), it’s clear the fall TV season will have a full dose of members of the tribe.

Funny ladies? Check! Zoe Lister-Jones plays a new mom in CBS’ “Life in Pieces”F (Sept. 21); Michaela Watkins is a dating divorcée in Hulu’s “Casual” (Oct. 7); and Rachel Bloom becomes an obsessed “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on the CW (Oct. 12). On a more serious note, Amazon’s drama “Man in the High Castle” posits the chilling hypothetical of what the world would be like had the Germans and Japanese won World War II (Nov. 20). 

As the profiles below reveal, there will be something for every viewing taste.

Jennifer Grey, “Red Oaks”

As one of the 1980s’ biggest movie stars, with “Red Dawn,” “The Cotton Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Dirty Dancing” to her credit, it’s no wonder Jennifer Grey has a fondness for that decade. Her latest project, the Amazon series “Red Oaks,” takes her back to that heady time, and for some viewers, a nostalgic milieu: a Jewish country club in New Jersey in 1985. 

“It’s as if ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Dirty Dancing’ had a baby, but it was brought up by John Cassavetes,” Grey said of the series, which was shot in New Jersey and New York, where she grew up. “It feels truly innocent and truly funny.” 

Joining a cast that includes Paul Reiser and Richard Kind, both of whom are Jewish, Grey plays a woman who has been defined by her role as wife and mother, and experiences an awakening that finds her asserting her independence and seeking her own happiness. “She gave up her dreams as a young woman. Her son was her whole life, and all her self-esteem came from how good a job she was doing with him. But with her son out of the house, she’s going to advocate on her own behalf.”

Grey can relate to the overprotective parent aspect. Once reluctant to leave her only child, Stella, she turned down work, especially out-of-town projects. But now that her daughter is 13, Grey decided this was a perfect time to get back to work. 

The daughter of actor Joel Grey and granddaughter of comic Mickey Katz, Jennifer Grey has recently reconnected with Judaism. “I love being a Jew,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot more Jewish in the last five years because of my daughter’s bat mitzvah, and I realized I really care about being a Jew.”

“Red Oaks” begins streaming Oct. 9 via Amazon Prime.

Kevin Pollak, “Angel From Hell”

Kevin Pollak. Photo courtesy of Cliff Lipson/CBS

From an early age, Kevin Pollak, 57, liked having an audience. “At my bar mitzvah, it was very important to me that I got seven applause breaks from laughter,” he said, remembering performing for his relatives at Passover and the boisterous storytelling and arguing around the seder table that influenced him, as had the likes of comedians Don Rickles, Alan King and Lenny Bruce.

Pollak would go on to appear in many films, including “The Usual Suspects,” “A Few Good Men,” “Casino,” “Grumpy Old Men” and “Avalon,” often playing Jewish characters. Also a familiar face on TV, he has appeared in “The Drew Carey Show,” “Shark” and recently “Mom” — that is, until his character suffered a fatal heart attack. 

But Pollak wasn’t out of work for long. In the CBS comedy “Angel From Hell,” he plays the father of a woman (Maggie Lawson) whose life is turned upside down by a well-meaning but meddling guardian angel (Jane Lynch). 

Working with Anna Faris and Allison Janney in “Mom” was “an extraordinary opportunity,” Pollak said, revealing that, to his delight, his initial couple of appearances expanded to more than a dozen. He’s equally jazzed to be in the company of women again in  “Angel From Hell,”  which follows “Mom” on CBS’ schedule.

Also busy behind the camera, Pollak has a documentary called “Misery Loves Comedy,” in which he interviews more than 100 funny celebrities — Larry David, Bob Saget, Robert Smigel among them — that was released this year, and he completed the feature “Late Bloomer.” “It’s based on a true story about a guy who goes through puberty for the first time at 30,” he said.

On screen, he enjoys toggling between comedy and drama and the diversity being a character actor offers. “I wrote a book called ‘How I Slept My Way to the Middle,’ and I’m here to tell you it’s fantastic in the middle. I get to have a life and also get the perks of show business, like getting a table at a restaurant,” Pollak said. “I’ve worked with a lot of giant movie stars, and that’s not an enviable life in any way, shape or form. You give up too much. I’ve got the best of both worlds.”

“Angel From Hell” premieres at 9:30 p.m. Nov. 5 on CBS.

Oprah Winfrey’s “Belief”

“Belief”: Mendel Hurwitz’s bar mitzvah. Photo courtesy of Harpo, Inc.

Religion can be a controversial and divisive topic, but as you might expect from Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, the seven-night documentary series “Belief” takes a positive approach. According to executive producer David Shadrack Smith, it was vital to Winfrey, who narrates the series, that the series focus on the part of belief “that gives us meaning and creates community, purpose and compassion, and [to] tell authentic stories through which people could encounter faiths and beliefs different from their own,” Smith said.

While the series was “never intended to be a comprehensive survey of faith and religion,” Smith said, it delves into the commonality among different faiths and “the same fundamental questions: Who am I? Why are we here? Is there a purpose to our lives? We did not set out to answer them, but to illuminate how those questions sit at the heart of some of the most incredible traditions and practices around the world.”

Judaism is well represented in the series by people “living out their beliefs in such personal and moving ways that were authentic to their own understanding and spiritual practice,” Smith said. They include Jeff Hoffman, a space shuttle astronaut who brought a Torah into space; Mendel Hurwitz, an Orthodox bar mitzvah boy in Budapest, Hungary; Rena Greenberg and Yermi Udkoff, a Chasidic couple marrying in Brooklyn; and a Jewish teenage cellist in Jerusalem who bonds with a Muslim flutist over their love of classical music. 

“Finding individuals whose stories were unique, powerful, and who could articulate the elusive intangibles of belief was a constant challenge. We relied on local producers, lots of research, personal connections and sometimes just plain luck to find people,” Smith said. Thirteen-year-old Mendel Hurwitz, a rabbi’s son in a community that had been nearly wiped out in the Holocaust, particularly resonated with Smith, who is Jewish. “The story of their small synagogue trying to restore itself in Budapest had deeper stakes than most. And when I compared Mendel’s scholarly approach to his bar mitzvah to my own years ago, I saw the religious rite of passage in a new light.

“Throughout filming, I was compelled to question my own beliefs, and I discovered a new appreciation of how to practice them,” Smith said, and he’d like to inspire a similar response in viewers. “Our hope is that there’s not only more understanding of diverse beliefs, but also those who watch the series might find themselves feeling a deeper, richer connection to their own faith tradition, whatever that might be.“

“Belief” premieres at 8 p.m. Oct. 18 on OWN.

Ron Perlman, “Hand of God”

Ron Perlman in “Hand of God.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

In a career that began in the 1980s with films such as “Quest for Fire,” “The Name of the Rose” and his breakout TV series role in “Beauty and the Beast,” Ron Perlman has amassed a wide variety of credits, including “Hellboy,” “Pacific Rim,” “Sons of Anarchy” and numerous voiceover roles. But in the Amazon series “Hand of God,” he plays his most challenging character to date, a man he describes as “a very strong, dynamic, powerful presence now liquefied by a series of events.”

As law-bending Judge Pernell Harris, he descends into madness after his daughter-in-law is raped and his son, a witness to the crime, is left comatose by a botched suicide attempt. Misguided by a shady preacher, Harris becomes convinced that the voice of God is directing him to seek revenge.

“This was a completely realized individual with all the power of a King Lear or a Macbeth and all of the sorrow and vulnerability of a Hamlet,” Perlman said. “This guy is royalty, and we’re watching him grasping with falling apart, and losing is not in his vocabulary. This is a real comeuppance for him, with all the ramifications of loss, of lack of control. He’s compromised for the first time in his life, and he doesn’t like it. He’s going to do everything in his power to meet that feeling head on and win even if it means destroying himself and his family.” The Lear comparison is particularly apt, he said, “because of how he’s falling apart emotionally; he’s losing control of his kingdom and grappling with how much of it he even wants to hold onto.”

But how does a New York City-born Jew relate to the born-again Christianity in the series? “I’m kind of agnostic when I’m an actor — a tube of paint to be used at the whim of the creator,” said Perlman, adding that Harris’ embrace of spirituality “is an act of seminal desperation and calls into question what we use religion for, what we need religion for. It wasn’t so much the details of what he was worshiping. It could have been Judaism, Islam. It wouldn’t have changed my approach to his zealotry.”

Perlman currently has four films in production and another three in development for his Wing and a Prayer Pictures, and as much as he hates the laborious makeup process involved, he’s not ruling out making “Hellboy 3.”

“With ‘Hand of God,’ which I’m as proud of as anything I’ve ever done, things are good in my world right now,” Perlman said. “It’s going to be an amazing year.”

“Hand of God” is now streaming via Amazon Prime.

Brad Garrett, “Fargo,” “Manhattan”

Brad Garrett Photo by Frank Micelotta/FX

Stand-up comedian and actor Brad Garrett, 55, is still much loved for his nine-year run on the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but his latest role is deadly serious: mob enforcer Joe Bulo in FX’s “Fargo.” As a foot soldier for a Kansas City, Mo., crime syndicate, he’s sent to South Dakota to exert influence on the drug trafficking Gerhardt clan led by Jean Smart.

“We butt heads, of course,” said Garrett, a “huge fan” of the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” movie, which inspired the series. He actively pursued the role, which had been perceived by some as outside his wheelhouse, although he has acted in dramas before. “It’s a very different role for me,” Garrett acknowledged. “I had to go after it. I auditioned for it. You know, most comedians are pretty dark. So all I had to do was wake up, shower and show up.”

In addition, in October, Garrett will take a second dramatic turn in the WGN America series “Manhattan,” playing the ex-con father of one of the lead characters, an atomic-bomb scientist. The character is Jewish, noted the Woodland Hills native, who was born Brad Gerstenfeld and got his big break 32 years ago on “Star Search.” 

Jokes about his 6-foot-8 height, his family and his Jewish upbringing infuse the deep-voiced comic’s stand-up act, which he continues to perform around the country and at his comedy club at the MGM in Las Vegas. He remains connected to his Jewish heritage: “I consider it important,” he said, adding, “I still pay to go [to services] on Rosh Hashanah, though I’ve never understood why we have to!”

Considering the plot of the first “Fargo” season left few people alive, the odds are against Joe Bulo in the inevitable bloodbath. Might Garrett’s character survive? “I don’t know, and if I did, I couldn’t tell you,” he said, offering a final quip. “Who would kill me? I’m a pussycat!”

“Fargo” returns to FX at 10 p.m. Oct. 12.

Zoe Lister-Jones, “Life in Pieces”

Zoe Lister-Jones and Colin Hanks in “Life in Pieces” Photo courtesy of Cliff Lipson/CBS

In the CBS ensemble family comedy “Life in Pieces,” Zoe Lister-Jones stars opposite Colin Hanks, James Brolin and Dianne Wiest as a wife and mother dealing with a newborn. “It’s scary, but good practice. I will be a mom at some point, so it’s good for me to be certain that I can hold a baby,” she said, adding that she relates to the character’s “sharp wit and caustic humor, but there’s a softness to her.”

With credits including the series “New Girl” and “Friends With Better Lives” and movies “Salt,” “The Other Guys,” “State of Play” and “Arranged,” in which she played an Orthodox Jewish teacher, Lister-Jones grew up in a Conservative family in Brooklyn, attending Shabbat services at the Park Slope Jewish Center. 

“My mom was president of the synagogue, so I was very involved. I went to Hebrew school on Wednesdays and Sundays. I was bat mitzvah.  I was raised in a Jewish community that inspired me to uphold those traditions myself,”h she said, noting that since moving to Los Angeles 3 1/2 years ago, she has joined the IKAR congregation. She believes that comedy and Judaism go hand in hand. “It’s so ingrained in who we are as people. I can’t even articulate how it works.” 

On the dramatic side, Lister-Jones will play lawyer Harriet Grant in HBO’s upcoming “Confirmation,” about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings, starring Kerry Washington as Anita Hill. She also produced, co-wrote and stars in “Consumed,” a thriller about genetically modified organisms. “I like to push myself to try new characters and never get too boxed into one shtick,” she said. “I’ve been really lucky to do that, to play in drama and comedy alike. I’m drawn to stories that interest me, that feel important and fresh.”

Josh Peck, “Grandfathered”

Josh Peck. Photo by Tommy Garcia/Fox

Many parents and 20-somethings remember Josh Peck as the chubbier half of the comedy duo “Drake & Josh” on the Nickelodeon series of that name that ran from 2004 to 2007, and the network’s “The Amanda Show” that preceded it, but a lot has changed in the decade since. Now 28, Peck is slimmer and playing a father for the first time in the Fox comedy “Grandfathered,” about an estranged son who re-enters his dad’s (John Stamos) life, toddler in tow.

Although he’s been cast in “Red Dawn,” “Danny Collins” and the “Ice Age” movies, his transition to adult roles hasn’t been easy, “because of people’s misconceptions,” Peck said. “Also, when you’re young and cute, you get by on a certain skill set, and when you get older it doesn’t necessarily translate. I’m lucky that when I was 14, I had a manager who said, ‘You’re a sweet kid and you’re funny, but you need to go to acting school and learn how to act.’ I’m forever in her debt. It takes an incredible amount of hard work, and I’m grateful I get to do what I’m passionate about. Every role I’ve had has prepared me for the next.”

Growing up in New York City with a single mother and grandmother, who “kept me centered” and taught him Yiddish words, Peck said he loves the fact that Judaism, “especially in entertainment, infuses everything from the moment we’re born.

“I’m in the right business to have Jewish heroes,” the former child stand-up comic said, naming Woody Allen as a favorite. He’s more spiritually Jewish than observant. “I’m very proud of the culture of it. And I love a good Shabbat dinner.”

Peck, who’ll be seen playing a pot dealer in the upcoming movie “Chronically Metropolitan,” is gratified that he’s getting offered roles that enable him to push beyond what he’s done before. “It’s such a challenging business, and so much of it you have no control over. Every actor walks around with fear and neuroses,” he said. “But I think the universe puts you where you’re supposed to be. I very much feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

“Grandfathered” premieres at 8 p.m. Sept. 29 on Fox.

Comedian Joan Rivers still on life support, Melissa Rivers says


Comedian Joan Rivers remained on life support on Tuesday after being hospitalized in serious condition due to cardiac arrest, her daughter Melissa said.

Rivers, 81, was hospitalized in New York last week after she stopped breathing during a vocal cord procedure at a Manhattan clinic.

“On behalf of my mother and our family, we are extremely grateful for all the love and support we've received. At this time, she does remain on life support,” Melissa Rivers said in a statement.

She added that her mother would be overwhelmed by the kindness people have shown, and thanked everyone for keeping her mother in their prayers.

Rivers, an actress and stand-up comedian known for her acerbic brand of humor, has been at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan since Thursday.

Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

Manhattan’s Ramaz school clarifies advice on concealing kippahs


When Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the principal of Ramaz, an Orthodox day school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, first heard about “>letter about school security shortly afterward to students, parents and faculty, many were startled to find in it a suggestion about concealing kippahs, which Shaviv attributed to Lookstein.

“The recent incident involving abuse and harassment of a couple in the neighborhood has aroused comment. This seems to have been — thankfully — an isolated incident,” the email said. “However, Rabbi Lookstein suggests that parents may consider advising their children to be discreet in wearing uncovered kippot, tzitzit, etc. It remains good advice not to walk around the streets displaying iPads or other ‘vulnerable’ items; not to text, or listen to music via ear buds while walking (distracting your attention from the surroundings), and under all circumstances being prudent and aware of personal space and personal safety.”

Contacted by JTA, Shaviv took pains to say the school wasn’t advocating that students conceal their kippahs or tuck the ritual fringes of their tzitzit so much as merely passing along Lookstein’s suggestion.

“The school is not suggesting it. We’re passing on a suggestion,” Shaviv said in an interview, noting that he had no intention of concealing his own yarmulke. “All we’re saying is it is something that some parents may wish to discuss with their kids – no more, no less.”

He added, “Rabbi Lookstein has now reconsidered and may not want to suggest that after all.”

Now, Lookstein says, his view is clear.

“We don’t want this to become 

Jewish couple attacked in NYC, apparently by Palestinian supporters


A Jewish married couple were verbally and physically attacked in New York City by assailants yelling anti-Jewish statements.

On Monday evening, a gang pulled up in two cars and several motorcycles and surrounded the couple on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the New York Post reported. Several of the vehicles displayed Palestinian flags.

The wife was hit with a water bottle and her husband was punched in the side of his head, according to the newspaper, which cited law enforcement sources.

Police reportedly believe the couple was singled out because the husband was wearing a yarmulke.

The Upper East Side is an affluent neighborhood with a large Jewish population.

Giant Palestine Flag Draped on New York Bridge Under Investigation


New York City detectives were searching on Thursday for activists suspected of unfurling a massive Palestine flag over the side of an East River bridge during a march in support of Palestinians in Gaza, police said.

The flag, draped over the south side of the Manhattan Bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn, appeared during a Wednesday evening march organized by Palestine solidarity groups, a spokeswoman for the New York Police Department said.

Online photos of the banner show the phrase “Gaza in our hearts” and the words “boycott, divest, sanction” written in large letters on its black, white, green and red panels.

The flag was a show of support for the Palestinian cause as a six-week offensive by the Israeli military to stop rocket attacks launched into its territory from Gaza resumed after a 10-day cease-fire.

After flapping above the East River for about 20 minutes on Wednesday evening, the flag, about 100 feet long and 50 feet wide, was removed by police.

An investigation of the incident is ongoing and no arrests have been made, police said.

A recent posting on the “March for Palestine Facebook Page” discussed plans for the flag raising.

“On August 20th, NYC’s diverse communities will march together over the Brooklyn Bridge and cover it with a sea of Palestinian flags,” the posting said.

Anne Pruden, a spokeswoman for the International Action Center, one of the activist groups participating in the march, said she did not know who was responsible for the flag.

“We saw it from afar,” Pruden said. “It was a beautiful surprise.”

Other groups involved in the march could not be reached immediately for comment.

Police said they doubt the Palestinian flag was connected to an incident last month, when two bleached white American flags mysteriously appeared atop the Brooklyn Bridge, just south of the Manhattan Bridge.

Calendar July 12-18


SAT | JUL 12

“FAMILY PLANNING” WORLD PREMIERE

Nevermind 20-somethings moving back in with their parents — let’s talk about parents moving in with their married daughter. When New Age-Jewish-Buddhist Larry and his narcissistic ex-wife Diane lose their second spouses and most of their finances, there’s only one natural solution. Michelle Kholos Brooks’ (wife to Max, daughter-in-law to Mel) new play is a fun and funny nosedive into family drama condensed under one roof. Starring Christina Pickles and Bruce Weitz and directed by Cameron Watson, this show is for anyone who’s ever had a family — or a family they wish they’d never had. Sat. 8 p.m. $20-$50. Through Aug. 10. The Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. (818) 558-7000. SUN | JUL 13

COWBOYS AND COPLAND

The California Philharmonic and Maestro Victor Vener have planned an afternoon of Wild West favorites to which you’ll be tappin’ your boots. The show features pieces from Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid” and “Rodeo,” and there will be a special surprise guest narrating Copland’s masterpiece “Lincoln Portrait.” Come celebrate the man who helped establish that Western, riding-into-the-sunset sound that can make any local dreamy for days of yore (or at least movies of yore). Don’t forget your spurs! Sat. 2 p.m. $26.50-$111. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (626) 304-0333. ” target=”_blank”>skirball.org.


WED | JUL 16

DOMESTIC CHILD TRAFFICKING … SAVE OUR CHILDREN

Join the National Council of Jewish Women and Children’s Rescue Alliance for this thoughtful program that aims to be the voice of the voiceless. Speakers include state Sen. Holly Mitchell; manager of Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Project SPIN, Sara Train; Children’s Rescue Alliance founder and CEO Alex Riggs; and psychologist Talia Witkowski. Moderated by Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks, the panel is an opportunity to understand a still-too-present problem and the solutions for which we should be fighting. RSVP required. Wed. 11:30 a.m. Free. NCJW/L.A. Council House, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 852-8503. ” target=”_blank”>barnesandnoble.com


THU | JUL 17

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN

The Jewish-Guatemalan author discusses his new book, “The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle.” Goldman, who won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction for his novel “The Long Night of White Chickens,” also has written for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, and teaches at Trinity College. “The Interior Circuit,” a follow up to Goldman’s “Say Her Name” (a powerful tribute to his late wife), explores the complicated relationship Mexico City has with itself, its people and its future. Emmy-winning journalist Ruben Martinez moderates. Thu. 7:15 p.m. Free. Mark Taper Auditorium Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. (213) 228-7500. FRI | JUL 18

WOODY ALLEN DOUBLE FEATURE

If you haven’t seen a Woody Allen movie lately, here’s your chance. The first, “Manhattan,” which is shot beautifully in black and white by cinematographer Gordon Willis, follows a divorced New York City comedy writer as he navigates his way through friends and lovers. The second, Oscar-winning “Annie Hall,” is the story of Alvy Singer (Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) — an irreverent and interesting couple until they’re just irreverent and interesting on their own. Introduction by Jon Boorstin and Susan Willis-Powers. Fri. 7:30 p.m. $11. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica.
(310) 260-1528.

Y.U. rabbinical student sentenced to 13 years in abuse case


A Yeshiva University rabbinical student who pleaded guilty to child exploitation and distributing child pornography was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison.

Evan Zauder, 28, was sentenced on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New York, the Y.U. student newspaper, The Commentator, reported Thursday.

Rabbis and a professor from Yeshiva University had written letters to Judge Lewis Kaplan requesting leniency in his sentencing.

Zauder pleaded guilty in January 2013 to one count each of enticing a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity; transporting, receiving and distributing child pornography; and possessing child pornography.

He was arrested in May 2012 after the FBI raided his Manhattan apartment and discovered on his computer hundreds of images and videos of boys engaged in sex acts.

Zauder, who worked as a sixth-grade teacher at the modern Orthodox school Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, N.J., also was charged with having relations in 2011 with a 14-year-old male he met on the Internet. The teen was not a student at Yeshivat Noam.

The letters for leniency from family members and friends at Yeshiva University requested the minimum sentence of 10 years.

Y.U. staff who wrote letters in support of Zauder included Rabbi Ezra Y. Schwartz, a rosh yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary; David Pelcovitz, a psychology and Jewish education professor and an instructor in pastoral counseling; and Rabbi Kenneth Brander, vice president for university and community life.

Zauder also served as a former youth director at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck and a former part-time youth director with Bnei Akiva youth groups, according to The Commentator.

Jersey boy ponders his home state’s governor


I was once a Jersey boy. I grew up in Nutley, N.J., just about 20 minutes from Manhattan. I still wear my T-shirt from Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, N.J. — known to many as the maker of the best hot dog in America.  

Even when New York City was the central core of Jewish America (before the rise of Jewish Los Angeles), New Jersey had its own Jewish world. Philip Roth, another Jersey boy, set his fiction in Newark, which was even closer to Nutley than the metropolis across the Hudson. Weequahic High School was then the Newark high school where the Jewish kids went.

So I’m all ears about the state’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie handily winning re-election and making the cover of Time as the biggest news story in his party’s 2016 presidential effort. Is the Republican resurrection at hand? Who knows, but it’s a big moment for New Jersey, if you also add in the media coverage of the African-American mayor of Newark Cory Booker’s recent election as a United States senator. 

I love my California, and its revival from dysfunctional cautionary tale to role model for blue states has been inspiring. New Jersey is a different case. It’s not the state’s success under Christie that is gaining attention; it’s Christie himself. In fact, the state is not doing well at all in economic terms, with growth and jobs lagging. But Christie appears to be just what Republican strategists ordered: a strong personality who can win votes outside the Republican base in a blue state. 

The national media, always in search of the elusive (and nearly extinct) Republican moderate candidate are already swooning. It helps that Christie is a very effective speaker and debater who keeps his opponents on the defensive.  

Christie has a definite Northern New Jersey/New York City style that both attracts and repels.  At its worst, it’s bullying; at its best, it’s toughness. (We saw both sides of that in Rudy Giuliani.) New Jersey voters seem to have shrugged off Christie’s rough edges and his well-known girth, and clearly Christie hopes America will see him the same way. It also helps that he is a devoted fan of Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.

New Jersey is a blue state that favors moderate Republicans (the old-fashioned kind, like the pro-choice Christie Todd Whitman) in the governorship. Republicans there have earned public support for being different from longtime urban Democratic machines in places like Hudson County. Jewish voters, who tend to favor political reform, were not at all uncomfortable with most of these Republican governors. The parties alternated governorships over the past 50 years.

U.S. senators are a different story. Only Clifford Case, a moderate Republican, held that office for any length of time beginning in the 1960s; the rest have been Democrats. So it’s not surprising that Democrat Booker swept into the U.S. Senate the same year as Christie’s re-election as governor. (And that’s one reason Christie spent $24 million of public money to separate Booker’s special Senate election from his own scheduled November race — to keep the focus on his own victory.)

The pro-life Christie is not quite as moderate as the traditional Northeastern Republicans in the Rockefeller tradition. He does not have achievements comparable to what Mitt Romney accomplished in Massachusetts in health care, although he did cross his party by accepting the expanded Medicaid funding under the Affordable Care Act. But he is a far better politician than Romney, with a much finer sense of his audience. Notably, Romney began running for president when he realized he had little chance of being re-elected as governor after his first term. While Romney did not wear well, Christie has.

Christie’s policies are not what bolstered his political fortunes. Instead, it was the disaster called Hurricane Sandy that gave him the chance to showcase his leadership, and his full-throated political embrace of President Barack Obama in that crisis saved him from a potential re-election challenge by Booker. Booker had been weighing a challenge to Christie but abandoned it after the governor’s post-Sandy surge, leaving the Democratic field bereft and guaranteeing Christie a runaway victory.

But, as Giuliani discovered when he tried to parlay his Sept. 11 leadership into a national campaign, Will Rogers might have been right: “Heroing is one of the shortest-lived professions there is.” 

It may well turn out that Sandy is Christie’s Romneycare — his one signal achievement, which also ties him to the most hated figure in his own party. Seeing the problem, Christie told Politico’s Maggie Haberman, “President Obama came in, he did a good job, I said nice things about him, so all the sudden, I’m a moderate … I’ve governed conservatively.”

Recall, though, how this approach weakened Romney’s case. By the end of the nomination phase, Romney was essentially implying to Republicans that he had misrepresented himself as a moderate to Massachusetts voters, who are a bunch of liberals anyway and who cares what they think, but conservatives could trust him because he was always one of them, a “severe conservative.” Go down that path, and you lose the trust of your old friends, and make your new friends suspicious. Christie’s other option is to challenge the ascendant right wing of his party to change its ways, but recent history shows that’s a tough slog.

While the pundits are gearing up for the battle among Christie, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, I think they are missing the point. Republicans are unlikely to actually nominate one of their many available crackpot wannabes, although they are likely to flirt shamelessly with them. Despite all their noisemaking, none of the 2012 contenders laid a glove on Romney, despite his wide array of vulnerabilities. They were not running for president so much as for a seat on Fox News, and as a result, they were more likely to fight each other to be the most visible right-wing voice than to systematically dismantle the determined and persistent Romney. Although we will have to see if Cruz is the exception, these folks are probably not Christie’s biggest problem.

The real challenge for Christie is whether he will lose his temper in an argument with right-wingers, as Rick Perry did when he called his opponents “heartless” for opposing immigration reform, or if he will face other serious Republican candidates more familiar, comfortable and at home with the Republican base. Without an incumbent in the race for the White House, the interest among serious candidates may be stronger than it was in 2012.  

Christie’s initial foray into the national public eye shows that he will work extremely hard to keep the focus on personality and leadership and not on specific issues that could clarify the contradiction between the conservative Republican base and the general electorate. Those who want to block him from the nomination will have to work hard to make him answer specific questions on the issues that divide Americans today.

For example: “Gov. Christie do you favor a path to citizenship for undocumented residents?” (He supported such a policy as recently as 2010.) Or: “Do you favor or oppose changing Roe v. Wade as specifically proposed by the 20-week period being proposed in Congress? Or: You vetoed a minimum wage increase in New Jersey that the voters then passed; would you veto a minimum wage increase sent to you by Congress?” Or: “A number of states under Republican control have passed laws to restrict access to voting; do you favor or oppose such laws?”

Christie will wait as long as he possibly can to answer such questions, but he may find that the Michael Dukakis route of insisting that the election should be about competence and not ideology does not work in a country even more ideologically attuned today than in 1988.

Beyond the question of Christie’s prospects, the continuing isolation of the Republican Party from the rest of the nation —  whether Democrats, independents or moderates — is the most important fact of American politics today. Pundits wish for a personality who can magically bridge the divide. The real challenge is not whether Christie can pull off appearing to be a moderate in New Jersey to win a big re-election, then become a conservative for the Republican base to win the nomination, and then become a moderate again in a general election, but whether the Republican party as a whole can adjust positions that are out of touch with the majority of Americans.

And so it all comes back to Jersey. With Christie and Booker all over the news, at least my childhood state will not be ignored and may for a time get out of the shadow of New York City. I’m all for that, and when you get back there, go to Rutt’s. Trust me; you won’t be disappointed.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Lapid: It’s safer for Jews in N.Y. than Israel


It is safer to be a Jew in New York than in Israel, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid told an audience in New York.

“Israel was founded as a refuge for the Jewish people, but today it isn’t a safe place. It is safer to be Jew in New York,” Lapid told PBS host Charlie Rose during an interview Tuesday before an audience at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.

Lapid’s remarks on the relative safety of living in New York compared to Israel comes after he wrote late last month on his Facebook page that he has lost his patience for Israelis who move to Berlin.

Asked by Rose why Israel does not just return eastern Jerusalem to the Palestinians as part of a peace agreement, Lapid answered, “I want to live in a country that is not just a place but also an idea, and Jerusalem is the heart of the idea. There may be practical considerations, but a country cannot exist without an ethos, and Jerusalem is an ethos.”

“I like Tel Aviv; I live in Tel Aviv, but our right of return is Jerusalem. We did not return after 2,000 years for Tel Aviv but for Jerusalem.”

Lapid also told Rose that “Jerusalem will not be divided. It will continue to be Israel’s capital.” He also said he opposes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s requirement that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for a peace deal. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party is part of the government coalition led by Netanyahu’s Likud.

“I don’t feel we need a declaration from the Palestinians that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” Lapid said. “My father didn’t come to Haifa from the Budapest ghetto in order to get recognition from Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas].”

Principled rabbis; Important, but flawed statement


Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff, 

Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Emanu-El, Westfield, New Jersey. 

Past President, Central Conference of American Rabbis. 

I have celebrated Shabbat several times at Manhattan’s B’nai Jeshurun synagogue,  affectionately known as BJ.   Its prayer service conveys a powerful ruach and kavannah, spirit and personal dedication, which invariably draws me closer to the Source of my being.  Along with thousands of New York area Jews, I have long admired the rabbis and leaders of that synagogue for their courageous stances and their progressive values. 

No wonder that The New York Times earlier this month reserved front page space two days in a row to report on the controversial email that BJ’s rabbis sent to their membership applauding the decision of the United Nations General Assembly to elevate the status of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to that of non-member observer state.  I said to myself, “Good for them for standing up for what they believe,” and I also said, “I wish they had done it differently.”

Here’s what I liked.  Too many rabbis today fail to speak out on issues of conscience.  Too many of my colleagues have lost their prophetic voice.  Too many rabbinic leaders avoid the subject of Israel altogether because it has become so polarized that they fear repercussion.  I admire the statement because it affirms the responsibility of the rabbis of America to weigh in on the central issues facing the people of Israel.  Indeed, a significant number of Israelis, who are on the front lines, have urged the Jews of America and their leadership to become more vocal on these matters.

I also admire what was implicit in the statement (but unfortunately not expressed), that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is closing fast, that continued settlement initiatives are counter-productive,  and that the PA, being the only potential partner for those negotiations, needs the support of all of us who seek  a just and secure peace.  These are positions embraced by recent  US administrations both Republican and Democratic. 

What do I wish the rabbis had done differently?  First, I wish they had been more careful about how they developed their communication.  In a follow-up email, they apologized for including, without approval, the names of the Cantor, President, Executive Director, and Director of Israel Engagement.  They also acknowledged that the email was an incomplete version which failed to recognize  the diversity of their synagogue membership on this issue and to emphasize that they were speaking only for themselves.  These errors undermined the message,   conveying the impression that it was synagogue policy.   My advice:  take 12 more hours and get it right.  The synagogue and its members – let alone the profound issues of this conflict — deserve more careful attention.

And they should have done something else.  If they feel so strongly about this matter, and I am pleased that they do, they should have offered their membership a pathway to learning and to action.  One example:  there are responsible, effective organizations that focus everyday on Arab-Jewish relations, restarting the peace process, and a two-state solution.  Groups such as the New Israel Fund and JStreet, among others, are committed to continuing dialogue  among American Jews and to taking steps “the day after the resolution” to advance the peace effort.

And let’s not forget, the resolution which the PA brought to the UN is not all benign.  We know, for example, that it opens the door for the PA to bring a complaint against individual Israeli leaders to the International Criminal Court, the consequences of which can be profoundly threatening to those individuals and to the Jewish state.  No small matter! 

Their email also lacked balance.  It noted that the resolution addresses a “needed sense of dignity and purpose” for the Palestinian people.  This is a necessary prerequisite for the peace process to move forward.  But humane leaders ought not speak about such matters without calling on the Palestinian people to reject terrorism and anti-Israel attacks in any corner of their society.

My rabbinic colleagues across our nation share diverse positions on the Arab-Israeli struggle.  I respect this diversity because we are nearly all unified by our profound devotion to the Jewish state, the Israel Defense Force, and all of its citizens.  I would need to search far and wide to find colleagues more devoted to Israel  — in word and deed – than the rabbis of B’nai Jeshurun.  I pray that the discussion which their email provoked will lead to honest, effective conversation about how we can all become more engaged in the pursuit of a two-state solution built on justice and peace.  

From Madoff to Sandy and on eve of GA, federations retool when crisis hits


The national headquarters of the Jewish Federations of North America could not have been in a worse location when Sandy struck.

Except, maybe, if it were located on the Jersey Shore.

The Jewish Federations’ building in lower Manhattan lost power amid Hurricane Sandy’s winds and the surge of seawater that inundated the neighborhood. For nearly 48 hours last week, the organization’s servers were down, its email, computers and phones offline and inaccessible.

The organization's annual General Assembly, scheduled for Nov. 11-13 in Baltimore, was less than two weeks away. Worse, the head office of the country’s largest aid and welfare network was out of commission at a time of crisis for New York, the nation’s largest Jewish community.

But then the Jewish Federations came back.

First using Facebook to communicate and later shifting to texts, emails and phones once server access was restored, the organization kicked into action, opening a hurricane relief fund that raised more than $68,000 by week’s end.

Farther uptown, the federation system’s largest member, UJA-Federation of New York, announced a week after the storm that it was making available $10 million in emergency relief aid to its network agencies and synagogues in the New York area.

“In times of crisis — whether after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the wars in Israel’s North or this — federations are able to mobilize resources to respond in bold ways,” said John Ruskay, the CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. “While everyone extends themselves in the ways they can, federations are uniquely positioned.”

Four years ago, Jewish federations were facing a much different sort of crisis.

The U.S. economy was in a tailspin. The Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme had dealt a crippling blow to a host of Jewish foundations, agencies, donors and even universities. The need for aid was rising rapidly, fundraising dollars were in decline and federations were struggling with how to offer additional help while tightening their belts.

So federations began changing the way they did business. Staffs were downsized. Programs were cut. Two federations in New Jersey merged. Fundraising became even more tailored to donors. In some cities, overseas funding was sacrificed in favor of local welfare programs.

Four years on, these changes are still reshaping the federation landscape even as federation fundraising and programming are coming back.

“All of these are important changes and practical changes that the economic collapse didn’t necessarily lead to, but created the momentum that led to them finally being made,” said Louis Feldstein, former chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and now the CEO at Dynamic Changes Solutions, a management consulting firm.

“The key question is are they major changes or just dancing around the edges. The challenge is that you can’t cut yourself to growth, particularly in the nonprofit sector.”

In Los Angeles, where the recession saw a spike in Jewish poverty, the federation has recalibrated toward serving a more Jewish clientele rather than a nonsectarian one. The federation also has focused more on vocational services.

“We’re doing our work differently and focusing far more on serving Jewish clients because there are so many more to serve,” said Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

In New York, the federation established seven regional centers as part of a new program called Connect to Care that partnered with synagogues and other Jewish community institutions to provide everything from vocational counseling to emergency loans.

Like many federations, however, fundraising is still down in New York. While its annual campaign has picked up in the last couple of years, it’s still bringing in less than before the recession.

“We’re on the road back, but we’re not quite back where we were,” Ruskay said.

At the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland in Oregon, fundraising is still down about 25 percent from pre-2008 levels, even though it has grown by 8 percent in each of the last two years. Last year the federation raised about $3.3 million, down from a high mark of $4.2 million before the recession.

“The storm lasted longer than people thought it would,” said Marc Blattner, who became president and CEO of the federation two years ago. “We kept with the mindset that we have to ride this out and stay focused and on message.”

Sanderson says the upcoming General Assembly is a good time to retool and refocus.

Jewish Federations says it expects some 3,500 people in Baltimore for the GA — assuming that the continuing fallout from Sandy doesn't keep too many New Yorkers from getting the trains or gasoline they need to get there.

“We did the best we could to maintain momentum and keep everything moving,” Susan Sherr-Seitz, associate vice president, special projects/GA at Jewish Federations, told JTA after the storm. “A lot of things are out of our control here. We really are hoping that everyone is doing OK and will be able to come.”

The GA has a special message to convey in this time of challenge, Sherr-Seitz said: “Come together, celebrate together getting through the storm, feel together and feel the power of community.”

Jewish institutions remain closed due to Sandy


Jewish institutions throughout the eastern United States remained closed following the onslaught of superstorm Sandy.

Sandy, which was downgraded from a hurricane late Monday night, made landfall near Atlantic City Monday, with hurricane-force winds of up to 85 miles per hour and heavy rains.

At least 13 people in the United States and 68 outside of the U.S. have been killed so far in the one-of-a-kind storm, and more than 6 million people in 13 states are without power.

The UJA-Federation of New York posted a notice on its website that the building would be closed and all meetings and events canceled on Tuesday, and that information on Wednesday's events would be posted Tuesday night. The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan also announced that it would be closed until it is safe to return.

In New York, public transportation shut down on Sunday night, and schools and offices in the city were scheduled to be closed. Low-lying areas of the city, including parts of southern Brooklyn and the Rockaways, were ordered evacuated. Wall Street also shut down Monday and Tuesday due to the weather.

Parts of Maryland, Delaware and the New Jersey Shore also were ordered evacuated.

In the Washington area, the public transportation system stopped on Monday, and schools, colleges and universities also closed due to expected power outages. Some already announced that they will remain closed Tuesday and possibly into Wednesday, according to The Washington Post.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and area day schools also closed Monday.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia also announced that it would be closed Monday and Tuesday and would resume operations on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, President Obama, who suspended campaigning to return to Washington to monitor the storm, declared a major disaster in New York City, New Jersey and Long Island.

Meanwhile, flights between Israel's Ben Gurion Airport and U.S. cities, including New York, Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia, on Tuesday were canceled for a second day.

Jewish institutions shutting down for massive storm


[UPDATE 5:15 p.m. PDT] Reuters 

Massive storm Sandy made landfall on Monday along the coast of southern New Jersey, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Sandy was located about 5 miles southwest of Atlantic City, N.J., and had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. 

Reporting by Kevin Gray; editing Christopher Wilson


[9:00 a.m. PDT] JTA

Jewish institutions throughout the eastern United States were closing in preparation for the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy.

The hurricane was set to make landfall late Monday, but rain and high winds already have started to batter the East Coast. The storm is expected to cause massive flooding and major power outages.

The UJA-Federation of New York posted a notice on its website that the building would be closed and all meetings and events canceled on Monday, and that information on Tuesday's events would be posted Monday night. The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan also announced that it would be closed Monday and remain so until it is safe to return.

Hurricane Sandy

This NOAA GOES-13 satellite image shows Hurricane Sandy as it is centered off of Maryland and Virginia taken at 6:40 EDT on Oct. 29. The storm is heading in a northwestern direction towards the Delaware and southern New Jersey coast. An estimated 60 million Americans were expected to be affected by rain, wind, snow, or ocean storm surges from the storm. Photo courtesy of NOAA/Reuters

Also in New York, public transportation shut down on Sunday night, and schools and offices in the city were scheduled to be closed on Monday. Areas of Brooklyn and the Rockaways were ordered evacuated. Wall Street also shut down Monday due to the weather.

Parts of Maryland, Delaware and the New Jersey Shore also were ordered evacuated.

In the Washington area, the public transportation system stopped on Monday, and schools, colleges and universities also closed due to expected power outages. Some already have announced that they will remain closed Tuesday and possibly into Wednesday, according to the Washington Post.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and area day schools also closed Monday, though the JCC of Greater Washington was scheduled to remain open until mid-afternoon Monday. 

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia also announced that it would be closed Monday.

Jewish school teacher arrested on possession of child pornography


A teacher at a Jewish elementary school in the New York area has been arrested on charges of possessing child pornography.

Evan Zauder, a sixth grade teacher at the Modern Orthodox school Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, N.J., was arrested after the FBI reportedly raided his Manhattan department and discovered on his computer hundreds of images and videos of boys engaged in sex acts. His bail hearing is set for Friday. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and a maximum fine of $250,000.

The Forward reported that Rabbi Chaim Hagler, principal of Yeshivat Noam, was unavailable for comment, but issued a statement to parents May 2 stating that the school had “no reason to believe that any of our students are in any way involved or directly affected.”

Zauder is also a rabbinical student at Yeshiva University. The Forward quoted Y.U.‘s spokesman, Mayer Fertig, as saying that he was “saddened and dismayed” by the charges.

Following the news of Zauder’s arrest, Rabbi Shaul Feldman, director of the U.S. and Canadian wing of the Orthodox youth movement Bnei Akiva, issued a mass email message to parents informing them about the arrest and Zauder’s stint the past two summers as a head counselor on the organization’s Israel summer tour. “We learned of this arrest in the news and have not been contacted by the authorities,” Feldman said. “This arrest is not related to his employment at Bnei Akiva and we have no reason to believe any inappropriate behavior occurred while he was employed in any of our programs or camps.”

Hurricane Irene takes a toll on Jewish community with three deaths, but institutions spared


For some in the Jewish community, Hurricane Irene was a soggy inconvenience.

But for others it became a moment to extend a helping hand—in at least three cases, tragically.

David Reichenberg, a 50-year-old father of four from Spring Valley, N.Y., died while saving a father and his 6-year-old son from a downed power line. He contacted the live wire and was electrocuted.

Reichenberg, an Orthodox Jew, was one of three Jews reportedly killed Sunday in the storm.

Michael Kenwood, 39, also died while attempting to help others.

A volunteer first aid worker from Princeton, N.J., Kenwood was checking a submerged car that rescuers thought was occupied when he became untethered and slipped. Kenwood was swept away by the current and later was pulled unconscious from the waters. He died the same night, reported the Trenton Times. The car was found to be abandoned.

Rozalia Gluck, 82, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was trapped in a Catskills motel that had become unmoored during the storm and floated away. Authorities recovered her body late Sunday. Isaac Abraham, a leader in the Brooklyn Chasidic community, told the New York Daily News that Gluck was a Holocaust survivor originally from Russia.

“She survived Hitler,” Abraham said, “but she couldn’t survive Irene.”

By Tuesday afternoon, 40 deaths in 10 states were attributed to Hurricane Irene, The Associated Press reported.

In the Reichenberg tragedy, he had stopped to help the father and son, who were outside viewing the damage to their home in Rockland County when the boy touched a metal fence electrified by a fallen wire. Reichenberg pulled the two from the fence but could not escape himself, witness Moishe Lichtenstein told the New York Daily News.

“When I got there the victim was on the ground and he was touching the wire, which was in the water,” Lichtenstein said. “When emergency officials got there, they couldn’t touch him. We were standing there for like five or 10 minutes. We were just praying, ‘God help this man.’ “

Reichenberg was pronounced dead at the scene and was buried Sunday night. The injured boy, Reuven Herbst, was reported to be in critical but stable condition as of Monday night. His father, whose name was not released, suffered only minor injuries.

In an interview with JTA, a longtime friend of Reichenberg, Rabbi Avrohom Braun, described him as an “upbeat person with unshakable faith.” Braun is director of admissions and education at Ohr Somayach yeshiva, which Reichenberg attended 25 years ago.

Reichenberg, who ran a sign-making shop, would attend 6 a.m. classes each day before opening his store, Braun said. He also said Reichenberg regularly volunteered to help coordinate Shabbat meals for impoverished families in Rockland County, which has a large population of Orthodox Jews.

As the cleanup effort began late Sunday and the East Coast began to return to some semblance of normality on Monday—in many areas, public transportation was still unavailable—the major denominational synagogue groups were still trying to make contact with constituent congregations in areas without power or telephone lines. They were hindered by staff members unable to get to work due to lack of train service and impassable roads.

Except for power outages and some minor flooding, no shuls reported much damage. Congregations moved Torah scrolls and historical documents to safe buildings at high ground, said Rabbi Elliott Kleinman, chief program director for the Union for Reform Judaism.

Even before the storm struck, the Jewish community attempted to prepare for the worst.

Some New York neighborhoods that are home to large Jewish communities were evacuated by order of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including Brighton Beach and portions of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway in Queens.

In Baltimore, the Rosenbloom Jewish Community Center opened its doors to 395 foreign workers, mostly Eastern European college students who had been evacuated from Ocean City, Md., the Baltimore Jewish Times reported. Although the JCC, located in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills, Md., had been designated an emergency evacuation center three years ago, it was the first time the building had been used for that purpose.

“As a Jewish organization, the JCC has the privilege of stepping up to uphold the Jewish value of ‘hachnasat orchim’—welcoming of guests into one’s homes,” the JCC’s leadership wrote in an e-mail, according to the report.

Before the storm, Jewish officials offered both practical and religious counsel in preparation for the hurricane. The Union for Reform Judaism issued hurricane preparation guides.

The Orthodox website Vos Iz Neias posted halachic guidelines issued years ago by the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and others for what to do on the Sabbath in the event of a hurricane. Among other things, the guidelines specified that one may leave a radio on in a room of the house that is not generally used if there is concern for safety.

“The rabbis are getting a lot of calls today,” Dov Hikind, an Orthodox New York State assemblyman from Brooklyn, told Reuters last Friday.

Lindsay Goldman, the director of UJA-Federation of New York’s J-11 Information Referral Center, reported that UJA-Federation had advised its partner agencies to activate their emergency protocols. As of Monday morning, she said, all agencies had reported that they were open.

The URJ and B’nai B’rith International both opened hurricane relief funds to collect donations for hurricane aid. As of Monday, neither organization could say how much they had collected or had decided exactly how the money would be spent or distributed.

Rhonda Love, the director of B’nai B’rith’s Center for Community Action, said that even though the disaster occurred in the densely Jewish East Coast, aid will remain consistent with past natural disaster relief efforts—based on need, not creed.

“We’ll work where there’s any opportunity to help,” Love said.

The committee that will allocate the URJ funds is reviewing damage reports from congregations but will give according to the needs of “congregations, Jewish communities or larger communities,” Kleinman said. Those decisions will be made in the next week or two, he said; as of Monday there had been no immediate requests for funds.

“Being there right away is great,” Kleinman said. “But sticking with them in the future is just as important.”

Irene downgraded as four million without power


At least four million people are without power and nine dead in the United States in the wake of Hurricane Irene, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm.

The streets of New York City remained deserted on Sunday, as public transportation remained shut down, and the storm hit with sustained winds of 65 mph, according to the Associated Press.

Thousands of flights in and out of the areas three main airports – JFK and Laguardia in New York, and Liberty in New Jersey – were cancelled, including flights to and from Israel.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Aug. 26 ordered a mandatory evacuation of coastal areas prone to flooding in advance of Hurricane Irene, including some neighborhoods that are home to large Jewish communities.

In a news conference, Bloomberg said that all residents in the evacuation areas must leave by 5 p.m. on Saturday. The areas that the mayor ordered evacuated spanned the city’s five boroughs and include heavily Jewish neighborhoods such as Brighton Beach and portions of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway in Queens.

Some 300,000 people live in the evacuation areas, which include all parts of the city that are categorized on the city’s hurricane vulnerability map as Zone A, designating the places at highest risk of flooding from a hurricane’s storm surge. In addition, the mayor’s evacuation order applied to all residents of the Rockaways, irrespective of whether one lives in Zone A.

A Rabbi Meisels who was interviewed by the Orthodox website Vos Iz Neias urged residents of the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sea Gate and Coney Island to leave before the Sabbath.

“Since the time for mandatory evacuation will be on Shabbos and we won’t be able to leave then, we are telling people to go before Shabbos,” Meisels told Vos Iz Neias. “We hope that ultimately this will all have been for nothing, but we are recommending that people leave now.

Vos Iz Neias also posted halachic guidelines from the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and others for what to do on the Sabbath in the event of a hurricane. Among other things, the guidelines specify that one may leave a radio on in a room of the house that is not generally used if there is concern for safety.

The evacuation zone also included large parts of coastal Staten Island and Battery Park City in Manhattan, among other areas. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority will suspend bus, train and subway service as of noon on Saturday.

“Some of the rabbis are giving permission to leave the radio on the Sabbath. The rabbis are getting a lot of calls today,” Dov Hikind, an Orthodox New York state assemblyman from Brooklyn, told Reuters.

2nd Avenue Deli is movin’ on up, to the East Side


New York’s Second Avenue Deli now has two locations—neither of which is on Second Avenue.  JTA has video of the new branch’s opening, featuring a cameo by television and Yiddish stage star Fyvush Finkel.

To help with war trauma, Israeli soldiers take Manhattan


When Israel wanted to help its troops, it sent them to America.

Last month, 15 former soldiers selected by the Israel Defense Forces traveled to New York for a weeklong program to treat lingering trauma from their combat during the 2006 Lebanon War with Hezbollah.

An Israeli group called Peace of Mind organized the program, which ranged from group therapy and painting to sightseeing at the Empire State Building and a cocktail party on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The long distance—not just from Lebanon, but from Israel as well—is at the heart of the treatment program.

“In Israel, it’s not socially acceptable to talk about these experiences,” said Alon Weltman, an Israeli psychologist and director of the program who accompanied the soldiers during their visit.

Bringing them to the United States, Weltman said, was an effort to break that taboo and help them move beyond their traumas. The soldiers spent half of each day in New York in intensive group therapy.

The program was developed by the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, a nonprofit affiliated with the Sarah Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem and the School of Social Work at Hebrew University. The center asks the IDF to choose a group of soldiers for treatment and then finds international Jewish communities willing to take in the soldiers and foot the bill—about $55,000—to pay for the expenses of the 15 soldiers and three psychologists. In this case, a group of Jews from Fire Island, a popular vacation spot on Long Island about two hours from Manhattan, paid the bill.

Peace of Mind doesn’t treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, but helps soldiers realize that they may have repressed trauma from their wartime experiences that affect their everyday lives.

“Think of someone experiencing a sudden death of someone close,” Weltman said. “That person is dealing with a difficult experience but is not necessarily post-traumatic. He might not have the right tools to deal with this experience, though, and that is part of what we try to do in the program.”

The 15 men who came for the visit to America last month were platoon mates in the IDF’s 931st infantry regiment during the monthlong Second Lebanon War. The 931st saw particularly tough combat, including urban fighting against Hezbollah militiamen in closed quarters.

“There were a lot of missions,” said First Sgt. Amit Ginat, who spent a year in physical therapy after being wounded by gunfire and grenade shrapnel during an assault on a house occupied by four enemy fighters.

The platoon defended strategic buildings, staged assaults and came under rocket fire. In one rocket attack that hit their sleeping quarters, a soldier who had switched mattresses with a friend was killed by the projectile. Ten others were wounded.

Most of the platoon members were injured during the war. Weeks later they were civilians again.

Their lives took different paths. They traveled, went to school, married, worked jobs, had kids. Some kept in touch, but not all. Every so often they regrouped for reserve duty. But many could not leave the war completely behind them.

Capt. Yuron Edel is taken back to the combat zone by the smell of metal or Mediterranean herbs. Second Lt. Yoni Beck still wonders whether he could have saved his friends. First Sgt. Shay Shem Tobi says fireworks make him jumpy. Levy Forchheimer can’t listen to a particular song without remembering the friend he lost in combat.

“Everything since the war has changed. I try to avoid situations that remind me of the war,” said Tobi, who left Israel to travel when his service ended and recently started studying animation. “Some take it more harshly than others, but everyone took something from it, something good or bad.”

For some of the soldiers on the program, the realization that the war still touches their lives felt like a revelation.

“I didn’t think the war affected me,” Beck said. “Now when we sit and talk, I realize how much it’s affected my life.”

Other soldiers said they didn’t think they had lingering trauma.

“I wouldn’t like to think the war changed me,” Forcheimer, an American who served in the IDF, said near the outset of the program. “But I’ll find out.”

Edel said the program gave him concrete and immediate results.

“It gave me a feeling of lightness, having put the burden away,” he said in a phone interview from Israel after the program ended.

Although excellent treatment is available to the average soldier within the IDF, Weltman said, soldiers must seek it out.

“We think the treatment should come to them,” he said, explaining the rationale for Peace of Mind.

Weltman said the program helps the IDF because it reduces the dropout rate for reserve duty and increases resilience for trauma, which he said is measured before and after the program. The IDF did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

For the Jewish communities taking in and entertaining the soldiers, it’s an opportunity to learn and to help. On their first day in the United States, the soldiers were the guests of honor at a cocktail party and comedy night hosted by the Manhattan Jewish Experience, an outreach organization that caters to unaffiliated young professionals.

The organization’s founder, Rabbi Marc Wildes, told the soldiers in a short welcoming speech that they are admired by the Jewish community and viewed as “holy soldiers.” The men listened, but also kept their arms around each other, whispering and interjecting jokes. Afterward, Edel thanked the rabbi for the welcome but offered a corrective.

“You see us as holy soldiers, but we see ourselves as simple people,” Edel said. “We want you to see us that way, and talk to us that way, and pass that along.

Barbara Messer, who helped organize the Long Island residents who sponsored and hosted the soldiers, said the lesson was learned.

“When they were coming, people were saying, ‘The soldiers are coming,’ ” Messer recalled. “But after they arrived they were just the guys—people who had been through a lot and who then became our friends.”

Fire ravages prominent N.Y. synagogue


A fire has badly damaged one of New York City’s most prominent synagogues.

The four-alarm fire broke out in Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on Manhattan’s Upper East Side at around 8:30 on Monday night, according to the Associated Press. The fire, caused the roof to collapse. The building’s top floors were badly damaged.

The New York Fire Department reportedly is concerned about the massive 110-year-old building’s structural integrity.

The fire was brought under control an hour after it began. Four firefighters sustained minor injuries quelling the blaze, The New York Times reported.

The cause of the fire, which fire officials think began on the roof or top floor, has not yet been determined.

The synagogue building had been undergoing renovations. Religious articles had been removed prior to construction, so no Torah scrolls were damaged in the fire.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun is an Orthodox synagogue and one of the city’s most prominent Jewish congregations. It is led by Rabbi Haskell Lookstein, a leading figure in Modern Orthodoxy.

Lincoln Square Synagogue construction resumes


Construction resumed on the new Lincoln Square Synagogue building in New York more than four months after it was halted due to funding problems.

The building of the Modern Orthodox synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan began anew Monday following a successful effort to raise $3 million by April 30, mostly from its 650-family membership—the stipulation in order to access a $20 million pledge from an anonymous donor to complete the building .

“This was an act of faith on the part of everyone involved,” said Phyllis Getzler, chair of the Capital Campaign committee. “Our donor provided us with an example of ultimate charity, and the stipulations were both appropriate and energizing.

“Our membership, along with an amazing number of people outside the community, responded to the call and came through with great generosity. And when this beautiful new facility, which we hope will be a resource for the entire Jewish community, is completed, each of us will be able to say with pride, ‘I helped build this.’ ”

Last October, Lincoln Square had halted construction on a three-story, 50,000-square-foot edifice located 100 feet south of its current building. The cost was originally put at $28 million but had ballooned by as much as $17 million, according to reports.

Stolen Torah scrolls have new homes


Two Torah scrolls rescued from thieves were given to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which has found new homes for them.

The scrolls, each about 150 years old, were given to the JDC by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in a handover ceremony Tuesday at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan.

They will be given to synagogues in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Belgrade, Serbia, in time for use on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

The scrolls will help replace Torah scrolls stolen 10 years ago from the Sofia Synagogue, the JDC said. In Belgrade, it will be the first kosher scroll in use since the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia when Jewish community assets were divided.

Recovered more than a decade ago from two thieves who were fencing stolen Torah scrolls, the scrolls are two of 10 for which prosecutors were unable to find the rightful owners, according to the New York Daily News.

JCC leader advising couple behind Islamic center


The head of the Manhattan JCC is advising the effort to build an Islamic cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero.

Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, is calling on Jewish and Christian institutions to accept the couple behind the project. She discussed her institution’s connection to the project in an appearance Sunday on ABC’s This Week With Christiane Amanpour. She appeared alongside Daisy Khan, the wife of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, who is the religious leader associated with the controversial project, which will include a mosque.

“The JCC has invited Daisy and the imam to come speak at the JCC in September, and I hope that we’ll be able to do that,” Levitt said on the program. “They’ve certainly accepted our offer, and I hope that JCCs and other community centers in the Christian and Jewish community and in the secular world will come to do that, because clearly what this whole controversy has unleashed is a tremendous amount of misinformation, lack of knowledge about Islam that we need to address.”

Levitt confirmed that the JCC has been advising Khan and Rauf. “Well, we got a call from Daisy when they began to think about this project, and said we want to build an MCC just like the JCC,” Levitt said.

Many Republican lawmakers and several Democratic ones, a slew of conservative pundits and some people who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 attacks oppose the project, saying that opening a mosque so close to Ground Zero is a slap in the face to those who died there and their families. Some of the opponents also argue that the symbolic location of the project will embolden anti-American Islamic forces.

Khan said that when she and her husband begin to raise money for the estimated $100 million project, they will be seeking more advice from Levitt and the JCC.

“Well, this is where my counselor on my right is helping us, because our funding is going to pretty much follow the same way that JCC got its fund raising,” Khan said. “First, we have to develop a board. Then the board is going to have a financial committee, fund-raising committee, that will be in charge of the fund raising.”

Many critics of the project express concern that the money to pay for the Islamic cultural center might come from overseas sources with ties to terrorism. Khan said that she and her husband have pledged to work with U.S. authorities to alleviate such concerns.

In the interview, Levitt slammed former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich—one of the most prominent critics of the project—for comparing the project to Nazis putting up a site next to U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. She also invoked periods in early American history when some colonies outlawed the building of synagogues.

N.Y. nostalgia with an egg cream chaser


“A lot o’ the tribe are here,” Stewie Stone said. The 68-year-old comic, who got
his start as a Borscht Belt tummler at the Concord Hotel, was one of many landsman stuffed into Beverly Hills High School for a reunion on Saturday night — the 23rd annual New York Day in L.A.

The event, which drew 1,500 transplants who attended New York high schools, also celebrates Hollywood stars from the Big Apple, amid deli food and egg creams.

“We’re not the New Yorkers who hate L.A.,” said Lou Zigman, chair of the New York Alumni Association. “We’re the New Yorkers who love L.A.”

Zigman first organized the happening in 1979 for other alumni of Abraham Lincoln High in Brooklyn. In 1985, the gathering was opened to anyone from the five boroughs (dues: $18 annually) to kibitz with old classmates and sit through more than three hours of a Catskills-quality gala toasting two ex-New Yorkers. Past honorees have included Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Rita Moreno and Mitzi Gaynor (the Chicago native was “adopted” by the group in 2006).

Actors Jack Klugman and Jerry Stiller were the honorees for 2008, and money raised during the gala will go to high school scholarships (New York schools, natch). This year’s event also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers leaving Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

“It’s an attempt at a bit of nostalgia,” said Abe Glazer (Haaren High School, ’49) as he shuffled into a courtyard ringed with banners identifying high schools — DeWitt Clinton, Erasmus Hall High, New Dorp — where former bobby-soxers sat with Shofar hot dogs or lined up at a vintage Carvel Ice Cream cart as a sextet of alumni/musicians whomped out big band sounds.

In the packed Beverly Hills High auditorium, a variety show featured alumni entertainers like Gary Marshall, Sammy Shore, Connie Stevens and Monty Hall.

Stone (Erasmus Hall) got laughs with his schtiklach about how Jews had to choose between matzah and white bread. “We chose matzah because there’s more pieces in the box. That’s it. So when Moses said, ‘Let my people go,’ he meant to the toilet. We’re a people constipated for 5,000 years,” he said.

But there wasn’t a dry set of eyeglasses in the house after Ed Ames sang, “Try to Remember.”

Backstage, by an overflowing spread from Junior’s, Freddie Roman and Mal Z. Lawrence (stars of “Catskills on Broadway”) were telling Budd Friedman (founder of The Improv) why they love to perform here.

“We’re still Jewish,” Roman said.

“That’s right, the piece hasn’t grown back,” Lawrence said, talking over Roman in Borschtsy banter.

“We’re very good between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” Roman added.

“But I’m not looking forward to the bris,” Lawrence said.

Len Lesser (Uncle Leo on “Seinfeld”) sidled over and put a topper on the appeal of the reunion.

“Like Norm Crosby used to say about New Yorkers in L.A.: ‘What are you hugging and kissing all the time? You knew each other in New York for years you never said a word to each other.'”

Young Manhattanite’s diary of old is new again


In New York, even our trash is full of treasure.

One fall morning in 2003, Lily Koppel left her Riverside Drive apartment building, a bit late for work at The New York Times, and was struck by the sight of a large dumpster outside the entranceway. Piled high were about 50 old steamer trunks plastered with vintage labels of stylish hotels and cruise lines. When her curiosity drove her to climb right into the dumpster, passersby didn’t seem to notice, but her doorman warned her to get down. But she instead tried prying open the trunks, and soon was excavating a flapper outfit, beaded evening purses, a psychoanalyst’s files, matchboxes from Schrafft’s, a gold tube of lipstick in “Bachelor’s Carnation,” an official Mah Jongg card — clues to life among a certain set in the 1920s and 30s.

Koppel pulled out what she could, called The Times to send a photographer and then tried contacting the New York Historical Society, aware that trash collectors would soon be coming for this unburied treasure. Then she climbed back in and hunted some more.

She learned that her building was expanding its bike room and had cleaned out an area where these trunks, whose owners had moved on, had sat unopened for decades. Amid the chaos, a building porter told her that he had found a young girl’s diary and gave her the small book with its crackling leather cover and chrome lock. None of her scavenged items affected her like the diary; the young girl’s voice transported her to another era, yet was strangely familiar.

The diary sat on Koppel’s night table for several years, and she’d read it often. The diarist, whose name, Florence Wolfson, was inscribed inside, received the book on her 14th birthday, and wrote a few lines in it every day from 1929 to 1934. To Koppel, Wolfson seemed more sophisticated than her years, overflowing with passion, daring and intense feelings; full of literary ambition and craving adventure and romance. This potent whiff of another life reminded the young Chicago-born reporter of her own experiences in getting to know New York. Both women were painters as well as writers who felt the need to create beauty while trying to carve out their own paths.

“I felt like we almost could have been the same person, separated by 75 years,” Koppel says in an interview.

The only clues Koppel had to the identity of her doppelganger was a newspaper clipping tucked inside announcing that Wolfson had won a state scholarship at age 15. Through an encounter with a private investigator who contacted Koppel after a story of hers appeared in The Times, she was able to trace the writer, through birth records and telephone books, to her winter residence in Florida. Three years after she first climbed into the dumpster, Koppel called Florence Wolfson Howitt and told her that she thought she had some things that belonged to her. Howitt was astounded that this reporter had tracked her down and that she had the red leather diary she had long forgotten about.

After they met, Koppel wrote a story about the diary for The Times, which generated much attention, including calls from literary agents and editors who suggested that Koppel write a book. Working with the diary entries and long interviews with Howitt, Koppel has crafted a textured and intimate coming-of-age story and a very uptown portrait of Jewish life, “The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal” (Harper).

Some of the diarist’s entries have the feel of a writer with the expectation of a future reader — that she wrote these sometimes-cryptic notes to herself but also hoped to share her dreams and inner life.

Florence’s prose “possessed the literary equivalent of perfect pitch,” Koppel writes.

The book presents a meeting of selves between the young Florence and the woman she would become. The daughter of immigrant parents — her father became a prominent doctor, her mother a sought-after dressmaker, the beautiful and independent Florence went to lunch and tea at Schrafft’s and dancing at the El Morocco and the Hotel Pennsylvania. She rode horseback in Central Park, summered in the Catskills (her arrival at the Spring Lake Hotel caused a stir, as though a movie star had arrived), wandered for hours at the Metropolitan Museum, attended Hunter College, where she served as editor-in-chief of the prestigious publication, “The Echo,” and hosted a literary salon in her parents’ apartment. After receiving her master’s degree, she sailed to Europe, where she had a romance with an Italian count, among others.

While she rebelled against her parents’ expectations — they wanted her to marry a nice Jewish doctor — she did end up fulfilling many of their wishes. In fact, she eloped with her husband just as he finished dental school. They first met when she was 13 and on summer vacation in the Catskills, where he was working. His father, a rabbi, came from her mother’s village in Europe. Their first kiss is mentioned in the diary.

“Florence’s metropolis was a vast theater, like one of the lost wonders of the world. It was alive with writers, painters, playwrights and jazz. Ideas and art mattered. People rushed to the city because the mere thought of it burned a hole in their souls. My New York seemed out of tune, on its way to become a strip mall filled with Paris Hilton look-alikes,” Koppel writes.

When Koppel first visited Florence in her Westport, Conn., home, she found her “unexpectedly glamorous.” Florence greeted her and soon sat down to reread her words, pausing to read out loud lines like “Have stuffed myself with Mozart and Beethoven — I feel like a ripe apricot — I’m dizzy with the exotic.”

“You’ve brought back my life,” Florence told Koppel, and then wondered how she had led an ordinary life, rather than the creative endeavors she imagined.

These days, the two women get together every few weeks and have done appearances together in connection with the book, including the “Today” show. Koppel now sees Florence as a best friend, confidant, guide, the Jewish grandmother she never had.

Koppel asks, “How often do you get to know someone as a young woman and then meet them at 90?”

When I met Koppel in her lower Manhattan loft — she left the Upper West Side several years ago — she quoted lines from the diary with ease. A reclaimed trunk from the dumpster serves as a coffee table and two others are piled against a wall. She brings out the actual diary, a hand-sized book whose leather cover is peeling, its brass lock still in place. The pages — with five entries for each of five years on each page — speak of adventures, and now, represent a deep connection between two writers.

The diarist has outlived all the friends and lovers in the pages. Her husband died two years ago.

Florence wrote a lot for magazines early in her marriage and contributed the foreword to the book. There, she answers the question that immediately arises for readers: How does she feel, at 92, about having her intimate thoughts, once under lock and key, exposed to the public?

“Young Florence would have agreed that this is a positive. She would have said, ‘Go for it.’ It has been fun, it has added zest to my life, it has brought back some of the passions of my youth and made me feel more alive than I have in years. I am probably one of the most excited old women in the world.”

In a telephone interview, she said that when she first saw the diary again, she could hardly believe that she wrote it. Now, she really appreciates the respect she is garnering.

Before I left Koppel’s apartment, she pulled out a tangerine bouclé coat with a flared skirt and a single Bakelite button, its Bergdorf Goodman label still intact, and slips it on. This vintage find from the dumpster looks brand new and fits as though it were made for her.

Sandee Brawarsky is book critic for The Jewish Week.

Back to the future



Click on the photo name or PHOTO LINK for a description
Photo slideshow by Rob Eshman

“Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in.”

I’m standing on the balcony of a boutique hotel in New York’s Lower East Side, looking down on Orchard Street, having a “Godfather” moment. I am three generations removed from the Eshmans and — no kidding — Peshkins who lived and shopped and ate and shlepped on the very streets below me. But some reason keeps me coming back to this neighborhood on my visits to Manhattan. It feels familiar and foreign, strange and comforting. It is the remnant of the shtetl and the beginnings of the metropolis, the last breath of old Europe and the excitement of America. And on and on.

Back up a second. Did I say I was in a boutique hotel on the Lower East Side?

Yes.

Three years ago, I was making my regular pilgrimage to Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes and Guss’ Pickles and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, when I came across something that was then rare on Orchard Street: a clean storefront. I peaked inside and saw a man in a fedora directing what appeared to be the mother of all renovations.

Randy Settenbrino greeted me and gave me a tour of his still-aborning dream: The Blue Moon Hotel.

You hear about people like Settenbrino all the time — the kind of guy who gets an idea, like launching a rocket or building an ark or swimming a channel — and then, no matter the odds, the time, the cost, he just does it.

Settenbrino came upon one of the neighborhood’s crumbling tenement buildings a few years back and envisioned a beautiful, upscale hotel.

The place had housed generations of mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants in dark, crowded, bathroom-less conditions from 1895 to 1936. Then Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia decreed that owners had to meet stricter codes, and the landlord simply closed off the residential floor and rented out the storefront. “The place became a virtual time capsule,” Settenbrino said.

He bought it and set about cleaning out a century of detritus, then renovating every last plaster wall, banister and elevator shaft. He peeled off the fire escape, had a new cornice built, added three stories and gutted every thing else. He named it The Blue Moon Hotel, after a resort his family had once owned on Coney Island.

An artist by avocation, he used much of the objets trouvées in the basement to decorate. The walls are lined with collages made from old magazines and colorful table cards. The lobby is tastefully done in period furniture — a pre-World War I Coca-Cola vending machine and an 1898 soapstone sink. The front desk is made from leftover spindles and banisters.

Among the basement treasures: a tourist map of New York City, circa 1928, which Settenbrino framed and displayed. “It’s like the building was begging to be a hotel,” he said.

I asked him how much he spent on his dream. “It cost me five years of my life,” he said. “I started three kids and three bank loans ago.”

The result is a spotless five-story, 22-room hotel in which, as Settenbrino dreamed, guests can enjoy the flavor of the Lower East Side in style. March rates range from $250 (weekdays)/$280 (weekends) for a 320-square-foot room to $549 (weekdays)/$599 (weekends) for a luxury 700-square-foot suite. Breakfast is served in the light-filled lobby — coffee, fresh local bialys and rugalach. Still to come is a kosher restaurant in the lobby, which Settenbrino, who is Orthodox, points out — with some irony — is much needed in the once-Jewish neighborhood.

Each room or suite bears the name of a well-known neighborhood alumnus: there’s the Al Jolson suite, the Sophie Tucker room, etc. We stayed in the Molly Picon suite. The bathrooms have whirlpool tubs, chic white tile and chrome fittings, while the suites themselves feature two large separate rooms, a flat-screen TV –something I think the Peshkins did without — and a 16-foot balcony from where I could look down on the ghosts of Orchard Street.

“Every Jew in the world had an ancestor in the Lower East Side,” Settenbrino told me. “Everybody wants to know where their zayde or tante or bubbie lived. It’s like going 100 years back in time.”Except that it’s not.

Two of the families at breakfast one morning were non-Jewish tourists who found the hotel through Google. They weren’t suffering, like me, from an advanced case of nostalgia. Both said they liked the Blue Moon’s “European feel” and hip location.

That’s right, hip.

In the time it took Settenbrino to realize The Blue Moon Hotel, the Lower East Side has come alive.

We used it as a base to explore the old synagogues, the Tenement Museum just across the street and Chinatown and Little Italy within walking distance.

But after decades of crime and neglect, Orchard Street and the immediate environs have been discovered by Manhattan’s gentrifying vanguard of artists, foodies and clubsters. Just down from The Blue Moon is The Orchard, where the acclaimed (non-kosher) entrees start at around $30. There’s the open-late Cafe Chambon, Clinton Street Baking Co., Falai Panetteria, Internet cafés and — my favorite — Il Laboratorio di Gelato, a boutique ice cream store just across from the boutique Blue Moon Hotel.

Visitors nostalgic for the old neighborhood can still find deals at Friedman’s Hosiery and other now-disappearing shmata outlets. We still had a pickle from the barrels at Guss’ and still caught a whiff from Katz’s Famous Delicatessen.

But on the Lower East Side, thanks to The Blue Moon Hotel and its new neighbors, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

And I, for one, am not complaining.

To view a slideshow from this article go to:http://www.flickr.com/photos/7231439@N03/bluemoon-nyc.com

Q & A With Russian Jewish Author Gary Shteyngart


Gary Shteyngart is a literary clown with a frown. His biting satire comments on a multi-cultural America in need of self-examination and reassessment.

“Absurdistan” (Random House, $24.95), his extraordinary new novel, takes us on a no-holds-barred journey from post-communist Russia to a mythical former Soviet Union state he calls Absurdistan, with stop-offs in between to his beloved New York City. This Jewish Russian American writer invites us along for the ride. I caught up with Shteyngart earlier this summer in his Manhattan apartment. Shteyngart emigrated from the former U.S.S.R. with his family when he was 7 years old and grew up in Little Neck, N.Y. He currently resides in Manhattan.

Jewish Journal: Would you call yourself a Jewish atheist?

Gary Shteyngart: I would call myself more of a Jewish agnostic. I’m one of these people who would be very happy if there was a god. It doesn’t matter if it is a Jewish God or a Sufi god, or a Christian god. Do I believe it? I’m more than slightly doubtful.

JJ: How important is being Jewish in your writing?

GS: I would say that I am a Russian Jew, or even a Soviet Jew. We are, in our sensibility, a very specific kind of Jew. We lived in a totalitarian system for 70 years where a lot was lost. Jewish humor interests me the most, and Soviet Jewish humor is Jewish humor taken to the max. It’s Jewish humor from the edge of the grave. What’s amazing to me is how Jewish humor has completely permeated this country. I have Korean friends in L.A. who are using Yiddishisms when trying to be funny. Jewish humor is everywhere.

JJ: How would you describe your work? I like the term Jewish burlesque.

GS: There are many different kinds of fiction. There is a kind of restrained style of fiction, and then there is the kind that likes to run around and bare its chest, have a drink and talk to girls. That’s the kind of fiction I write. But there’s room for both.

JJ: When did you know when you were a writer?

GS: Very early on, when I was in Hebrew school. I wrote a take-off of the Torah. I call it the Gnorah and Exodus was Sexodus. I think I wanted to rebel against the very rigid way we were being taught. Most of us needed an outlet, and I tried to supply it. I showed it around, and it was a way to make friends and meet girls. After that, I started to write stories.

JJ: How often did you get into trouble?

GS: I visited the principal quite a lot. In Russia I was interested in orthodoxy, communism, Lenin, Brezhnev or whoever was in charge. In America, I was interested in Reagan, and Bush One. I guess I always have been fascinated by authority and, at the same time, contemptuous of it. In Hebrew school, we were presented with the ultimate authority, God. I remember the Russian kids would sneak pork kielbasa into the school bathroom, and when the rabbi found us he would be incensed and say, “This is what made the Holocaust.

JJ: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about where we are going?

GS: As a Russian Jew, I am hard-wired to be pessimistic. Pessimism is what I do best. When I wrote my first book, “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook” [2002], it was during the Clinton years, and I was very hopeful. The Soviet Union had fallen, and I thought Russia would rejoin the league of normal nations, but that hasn’t happened. I’m not sure which government, the Russian or ours, has let me down more. I guess there is a confluence of idiocy taking place in the world.

JJ: Where do you think we are headed?

GS: I think we are entering a post-literate age where people are reading less. Reading a novel requires a lot of time and further time for contemplation. I may be na?ve, but I connect literacy with democracy and being informed. I’m worried about our current state of affairs.

The irony is that people may be reading less, but they are writing more. Everyone wants to express themself, but there is a kind of lack of empathy for other people and cultures.

JJ: It’s sort of like one big blog.

GS: Exactly. And in the blog, the person writing is their own hero, or in the video game they want to be the center of action.

JJ: You describe Manhattan as being the world on an island.

GS: I’m worried that Manhattan’s quirky landscape is fading away. I’m worried that Manhattan is becoming an island of millionaires. Where I live on the Lower East Side, you still have a mixed neighborhood. We have the three H’s: the Hassids, the hipsters and the Hispanics. I spend half my day walking around the city. One of the greatest moments of my life was when I started Stuyvesant High School and discovered Manhattan. I looked beyond my Russian and Jewish roots and saw the enormity of life.

JJ: Have you spent any time in Los Angeles, and what is your reaction to it?

GS: I’m absolutely intrigued by Los Angeles and at one point considered living there. I don’t know how to drive a car to save my life and thought better of it. I think in many ways, for better or worse, L.A. is the model for what a future city might look like.

JJ: Final comments on “Absurdistan”?

GS: When I start writing, I write from the perspective of one character. Misha just came to me one day as this big, hulking guy. What I wanted to do with Misha is bring together America and Russia, these two hulking countries. What I love about Misha is his consumerism. He eats his way through the world. He eats sturgeon; he eats women; he eats political ideas; anything that comes along. I wanted to create someone that was much larger than myself and larger than any of the people I know. That was how “Absurdistan” came together.

JJ: What’s next?

GS: Next is a quieter book. I want to calm down a bit, because I feel like I am singing in the same register for too many times in a row. I want to do something more contemplative and more paced. One thing I’m considering is actually writing about other immigrant groups. The Korean American community in L.A. is fascinating, and I’ll probably spend some time in Los Angeles researching my next novel.

Harry Wiland, with partner Dale Bell, was co-executive producer/director/writer of “And Thou Shalt Honor,” a PBS special on elder care and family caregiving. He is currently co-producing and directing “Edens Lost and Found,” a PBS series on urban restoration that will air in early 2007. Wiland and Bell also wrote the companion book (Chelsea Green Publishing), available at

Wandering Jew – A Nosh of the Big Apple


It seemed the perfect thing to do on a recent winter Sunday in New York — visit some synagogues and nosh on ethnic foods.

So my husband and two sons got in the car, drove through an amazingly empty Manhattan to the Lower East Side and joined the second annual Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy Noshing Tour Extravaganza.

Once home to 500 houses of prayer around the turn of the 19th century, now only about 20 remain active on the Lower East Side. The area has gone through numerous incarnations since after World War II, when many Jewish families moved up and out to other parts of the city or to the suburbs.

At one point the neighborhood was considered so dangerous, people were afraid to walk the streets at night, but now it is experiencing something of a renaissance among Jews and non-Jews alike.

We had no idea if we would be the only ones to brave the cold and damp but were pleasantly surprised; about 30 people made up our tour.

The first stop was Congregation Chasam Sopher, which was built in 1853 and is the oldest continuously operating synagogue in the Lower East Side.

The synagogue underwent a $3 million renovation and now is a stunning jewel boasting beautiful stained glass illuminating the 12 tribes, chandeliers and polished pews.

“This building was done from the ground to roof,” Eugene Weiser, president of the congregation, told us. The previous temple president, by the way, was his father, Morris Weiser, a Holocaust survivor.

The snacks, cookies and other sweets were a welcome treat, especially for our sons, Ben and Gabriel, ages 10 and 7.

Our next synagogue was Congregation B’nai Jacob Anshei Brezezan, also known as the Stanton Street Shul, where we gathered in the basement for herring, garbanzo beans and potatonik heated on the radiators, just as it is every morning for the men who gather for a minyan. (This nosh was appreciated more by my husband and me than our sons.)

Founded in 1894 by immigrant Jews from the town of Brezezany in Poland, the synagogue is tall and narrow, a classic example of tenement-style synagogue architecture.

Elissa Sampson, Lower East Side native, synagogue historian and enthusiastic speaker, stood on a table and told us about the stages her shul has undergone in trying to survive over the years.

She showed the synagogue’s constitution, which stipulated how much each member could expect in burial money as well as the amounts of aid tendered to the disabled, widowed or orphaned. She brought alive the sense that each of the synagogues that used to densely populate the area were tight-knit congregations that mirrored not just the recent immigrants’ home country, but their hometowns.

B’nai Jacob also is “one of the last functioning synagogues in the area that has old-timers and new arrivals,” she said. One of their youngest congregants, a 3-year-old, entered the synagogue, then grabbed a cane, so he could be like the old men he sees at prayer.

After our snack, we went upstairs to the shul. Divided by a curtain between men and women, it’s in shabby condition, with peeling frescoes, decades-old round fluorescent lights and a few boarded-up windows.

The good news is, the buckets once needed to catch the rain are gone, because the roof has been fixed.

“The windows still need to be repaired,” Sampson said. “It’s a race against time.”

The tour continued, but we almost gave up at that point. It was rainy, we seemed to be walking forever and, despite the delicious food, our spirits were flagging.

But we continued, and were glad we did. The final synagogue was Kehila Kedosha Janina, the last remaining Greek-language, Romaniote-tradition synagogue in the western hemisphere — and it is still operating in its original form.

We had never heard of Romaniote Jews, an obscure branch of Judaism, a tiny minority within a minority.

They are Jews who, after the destruction of the Second Temple, were sent on a slave ship to Rome. Instead, a storm forced them to land in Greece, where over the next 2,000 years they developed uniquely different ethnic and religious customs.

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, president of the Association of Friends of Greek Jewry and the synagogue’s museum director, showed us the beautiful Torah scrolls wrapped around such heavy tubes that during Simcha Torah, she said, they put out a call for some of the younger, stronger men to help carry them.

The synagogue has no paid membership, but a mailing list of 3,000 households nationwide, and its leaders organize annual visits to Greece to help revitalize its Jewish community.

“We are the remnants of the Romaniote Jews,” Ikonomopoulos said.

A Holocaust memorial sits in the corner of the shul, easy to overlook but breathtaking in its simplicity. It is a Mogen David, with shards of glass representing Kristallnacht. Six memorial candles burn, for the 6 million killed. And on the ground are stones taken from Corfu that Greek Jews walked on when they were rounded up on June 9, 1944, never to return.

The building is undergoing the first stages of interior restoration, which will replace the antiquated electrical system and add air conditioning, along with re-doing plastering and painting while staying as close as possible to the look of the original interior.

Our tour ended with stuffed grape leaves, sugary sweets and, of course, olives. We then stepped out into the streets of the Lower East Side, which now — to our newly educated eyes — seemed to have a patina of the 19th century overlaid on modern Manhattan.

For tours of the Lower East Side synagogues, visit