Mistakes to avoid when presenting your house


It’s often hard to remain objective when assessing those things that are near and dear to your heart. Like, for instance, your home.

If you’re preparing to sell your house and want to create the best presentation for prospective buyers, you need to keep an open mind about how it looks to outsiders. Doing so will help you avoid these common presentation blunders:

1. Poorly Maintained

If your house doesn’t look well-maintained potential buyers will assume that they’re going to have to spend time and money on repairs and basic maintenance. Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you, be sure to make the necessary repairs to your home before you put it on the market. Your real estate agent can help you spot necessary details as he works for his real estate agent commission.

2. No House Number

Selling your house won’t be easy if buyers can’t find it or have trouble locating it. That said, make sure that you have a house number that’s easily visible and in good repair.

3. Pet Smells

Having a loving and well-loved pet is a highlight for many homeowners. But pet smells, and pet messes are a turnoff to many buyers, so do everything you can to remove smells and evidence of your pets before you begin to show your home.

4. Lack of Light

Proper lighting can create a sense of space and improve the overall impression of your home. Open all curtain and blinds, clean your windows, and trim away foliage outside the home that blocks the light. You may want to use additional lighting to improve the look and feel of a room.

5. Too Much Furniture

An over-abundance of furniture will make a room look and feel smaller than it is. Create space between pieces of furniture and even remove some of it temporarily as you open your home to potential buyers.

6. Poor Street Appeal

The first impression a buyer gets when they first see your house from the outside may determine whether they come inside for a closer look or drive away. Here are some things you can do to improve your home’s curb appeal:

  • Make sure your fence, post box, and street number are in good condition. If not, replace them.
  • Whatever you do, don’t neglect your landscaping. Make sure your lawn is mowed, remove any weeds, and prune and cut any foliage that looks messy.
  • Don’t ignore the importance of your front door. It’s one of the first things buyers notice and consider giving yours a makeover, whether it entails a new paint job or adding new door knob or knocker.
  • Clean the dirt from your garage doors, walls, walkways, and driveway. Your walls may benefit from a fresh coat of paint, as well.

7. Ignoring Clutter

Too much clutter can quickly scare away a potential buyer. Decluttering each room will make your home appear bigger, more spacious, as well as cleaner and tidier. Remove anything that you don’t need – such as ornaments, knick-knacks, extra chairs, etc.

8. A Poor Bathroom of Kitchen

Your bathrooms and kitchen are the rooms that many buyers will inspect the most. They need to be cleared of clutter to make them appear more spacious and may benefit from new light fixtures, hardware, and even a fresh coat of paint.

9. Selling an Empty House

Empty rooms look smaller and are uninviting to many buyers. Furniture and other items in rooms provide thought-starters for buyers who imagine themselves living in your home.

10. Cleanliness

Most buyers are unwilling to look past dirty floors and bathrooms. While it might not bother you, it’s important to remember that buyers are seeing it for.

Rubi's Taco "Lengua" - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Tasty, authentic Mexican cuisine: Chicago’s Maxwell St. Market


Though Chicago’s been in the news a lot lately — dealing with political issues, a crime wave and harsh weather — it’s still one of the great cities in the world! From its very beginnings, Chicago rose above the neighboring prairie towns in sophistication and culture. Folks came up from the Mississippi Delta and also, from around the globe.

One of the city’s historic outdoor markets — Maxwell Street Market — isn’t even on Maxwell Street anymore, but its quirky mystique follows it wherever it goes. For over 100 years, the market has been a famed melting pot of ethnic foods, flea market and back in the day, a well-known place to fence stolen goods! Unlike some of the city’s other farmer’s markets, Maxwell Street is open every Sunday, year round. I visited it on a gorgeous, unseasonably warm November day. The market was packed with neighborhood South Loop residents, as well as people the north side by way of bikes on this lovely day. Some brought their dogs, as the market seems to be dog-friendly.

These days, Maxwell Street Market’s food vendors are Mexican and other Latin street food, in all of their glory. Have you had pozole? It’s a traditional Mexican stew made with pork, hominy, spices and herbs, all slow-cooked. It felt so warming and perfect as a brunch starter on a warm-cool morning. Sitting at the pozole booth’s communal picnic table, I chatted up a couple of local fix-it guys: they felt the same way. The recipes are the real deal . . . I’m sure of it. Many of the vendors don’t speak English and my Spanish is sorely lacking.

Pozole Booth at Maxwell St. Market - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Pozole Booth at Maxwell St. Market – Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

As I finished up my stew, I glanced at a growing line in front of one of the vendors across the way. It was unlike anywhere in the whole market! I’ve always known that when it comes to local restaurants — even if it’s a food truck or a truck stop — the ones with huge crowds are where you want to go. The locals know what’s best!

Rubi’s Tacos

Rubi's Taco "Lengua" - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Rubi’s Taco “Lengua” – Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Rubi’s Tacos are revered by people all over Chicago. The vendor serves varieties that aren’t dumbed down for tourists. They take a while to get to your order, because everything is made of the freshest ingredients to order. I got a taco with chopped tongue, along with huitlacoche: a corn fungus known as “corn truffles”.  You can get your taco garnished with your choice of roasted spring onions, roasted chili peppers, fresh cilantro, onion, tomato and lettuce. The shell is a freshly baked soft taco. Luscious! There wasn’t a single person in the long line who was disappointed.

Rubi's Tacos at Maxwell St. Market - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Rubi’s Tacos at Maxwell St. Market – Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

 

Supermarkets say: Please don’t buy the dreck we sell


I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I was in a Minneapolis branch of Byerly’s, an upscale grocery chain in Minnesota.  Scanning the aisles for a small extravagance for my dinner hosts, I noticed that the shelf labels included not just the price-per-unit, which I’m used to, but little blue and white linked hexagons marked on a scale of 1 to 100 – a “NuVal” score.

NuVal scores don’t tip you off to a bargain.  They tell you how good or bad a food is for your health.

Yeah, right.  The idea that a food store would admit – would explicitly declare, on the spot, as your hand is reaching for it – that a product it’s selling is nutritionally crappy: that violates every principle of Marketing 101, not to mention Ayn Rand 101.

This is different from the labels that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required since 1990.  Those are well-intentioned marvels of confusion, containing so much information (are you getting your minimum daily requirement of magnesium?), so much disinformation (calculating calories per serving, when a serving is half the amount a runway waif would eat), so much incomprehensible information (I forget – is tripotassium phosphate good or bad for you?) that you can get an anxiety attack trying to figure out which granola will nourish you and which will kill you.

But NuVal scores make that simple, and sometimes shocking. 

Cocoa Puffs, for example, gets a NuVal score of 26, but so does Life (“you don’t have to be a grown-up to benefit from the whole grain inside”), and Kashi Strawberry Fields Cereal (“plenty of whole grain goodness”) gets a 10, same as Cap’n Crunch.  Post Shredded Wheat ’N Bran scores a 91.

An apple gets a 96, which you might expect.  But unsweetened applesauce gets a 29, apple juice gets a 15 and Mott’s Original Applesauce (“a great tasting snack that’s actually good for you”) gets a 4. 

Nabisco Nilla Wafers (“simple goodness”) get a 6, and Keebler Townhouse Bistro Multi-Grain Crackers (multi-grain! surely good for you, no?) get a 3 (no).

It’s no surprise that fresh broccoli gets 100, as does Birds Eye Cooked Winter Squash.  Grapefruits are 99, and sweet potatoes are 96.  But Vlasic Old Fashioned Sauerkraut gets a 4.  

Skim milk comes in at 91, one percent milk at 81 and two percent at 55.  But Capri Sun gets a 1.  So does Odwalla Pomegranate Limeade with 20 percent juice.  Who would buy products like these if they actually knew what poison – I mean, um, empty calories – they amount to, and if they had manifestly better alternatives an arm’s reach away? 

The NuVal numbers are the brainchild of David L. Katz, M.D., MPH, an adjunct associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine.   A dozen doctors and nutritionists, funded by the nonprofit Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., developed the scoring system, based on 30 factors including vitamins, fiber, salt, sugar, fat quality, protein quality, glycemic load, energy density and calories.  From the public health evidence about those factors, they constructed an algorithm that processes the data into a single number.  As new food science research is published, and as products are reformulated by their manufacturers, the algorithm and the scores are updated.  (If that’s happened to any of the products I’ve mentioned, I’ll be glad to revise the numbers online.)

It’s a miracle that some 30 retail food chains are adopting the scores.  You won’t find them at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, and from the locations page of the NuVal website it looks like the only chain in my neck of the woods – Kroger, which in Los Angeles owns Ralphs and Food4Less – is running a “pilot program in select areas” (Kentucky, apparently).  But Lunds and Byerley’s, which use NuVal, are venerable markets in Minnesota, as is King Kullen on Long Island, N.Y.; grocers in the NuVal fold aren’t just a bunch of crunchy hippies.     

As you might imagine, there’s been pushback.  Ocean Spray, whose Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail gets a 2, says NuVal doesn’t reflect its product’s urinary tract health benefits.  Sara Lee, whose Ball Park hotdogs get a 7, says other Ball Park products score higher.  General Mills complains that details of the algorithm aren’t public, as does the National Consumers League, which turns out to be an astroturf front for the likes of Monsanto, Bristol Myers Squibb, the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association and the National Meat Association.  And according to Dr. David Katz, the NuVal founder, the algorithm “has been described in detail in peer-reviewed publications accessible to all. It has been made available in its entirety to research groups throughout the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.; to federal agencies in the U.S.; to the Institute of Medicine; and to private entities that have requested such access.”

I’m no food puritan.  My culinary patrimony consists of shmaltz, gribenes and kishka.  (Don’t ask.)  I believe that the joylessness caused by renouncing “bad” foods – and the guilt that’s caused by consuming them – conceivably undoes the good that’s done by substituting celery for Oreos.  I know that adding eye-popping 1-to-100 scores to grocery price tags won’t cut down on gargantuan portion sizes; or make meals more mindful occasions; or alert us to our complicity with corporate farming; or prevent the processed food industry from addicting us to salt, sugar and fat; or get our butts off the couch and start moving.  But giving consumers a no-brainer tool while they’re standing in the supermarket aisle is surely a more promising way to stop the slow-motion suicide we call the American way of eating than declaring March to be National Nutrition Month.


Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Putting the brakes on runaway shopping carts


On a recent Friday afternoon, Mariz Mosseri went shopping for groceries, as she does on most Fridays. She trolled the aisles of Elat Market and Glatt Mart, Pico-Robertson’s two largest kosher supermarkets, which sit side-by-side on Pico Boulevard. 

Mosseri bought meat, vegetables, sliced bread and other necessities for Shabbat, and when she finished at the checkout, she pushed her black-metal shopping cart, brimming with plastic bags, out into the street and continued with it down the alley that runs behind the markets, and then turned onto Wooster Street. 

After speaking to this reporter, she headed home with her cartful of goods. Twenty minutes later, the cart was sitting empty in the driveway in front of her apartment. 

“They have a truck, they pick it up,” Mosseri explained. 

These days, Mosseri’s actions are standard practice in the neighborhood. 

But talk to the grocers, who typically spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars each month retrieving carts from around the neighborhood, and also shell out even more to replace dozens that go missing each year, and you’ll learn that they wish they could find a way, perhaps using technology, to keep those same carts from leaving their stores’ premises at all. 

These stores face a problem that larger groceries do not — parking is seriously limited in their lots. So they’ve tolerated the practice of people walking off with the carts — and paid dearly — to accommodate their customers.

In May, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance sponsored by Councilman Tony Cardenas mandating that no new stores will operate the way these stores do. The ordinance requires that all newly built and significantly remodeled stores with six or more shopping carts implement a retention system to keep them on site, and a spokesperson from Cardenas’ office said the city plans to study whether and how to expand the law to include existing stores as well. Such a plan could force the Pico-Robertson markets to change their shopping-cart usage policy. 

For now, however, well-dressed people pushing shopping carts up and down sidewalks, and leaving those carts on the streets, are as common a sight in this densely populated and very Jewish neighborhood as the temporary booths that will pop up on lawns when Sukkot arrives in October. 

The carts get picked up quickly, so what in other neighborhoods might immediately become unwelcome urban blight, in Pico-Robertson is more likely a potential hazard to a parked car’s paint job.

What for regular customers at the four major kosher grocery stores in Pico-Robertson is a welcome convenience is, for the owners, one more cost of doing business. New shopping carts go for about $100 apiece, and the owners know what the current “release and retrieve” system is costing them. 

“This is the biggest problem we have in the store,” said Kevin Novin, who has managed Elat Market since it opened more than 25 years ago. He estimated that over that time he has spent more than $1 million for carts, and that he spends about $100,000 a year just on cart retrieval. 

The owners of the other supermarkets in the heart of the neighborhood — Glatt Mart, Livonia Glatt Market just a few blocks to the west, and Pico Glatt Mart, which is about a mile away — told much the same story. 

“I’m supposed to have 40 [carts], but every six months, I usually have to purchase 20 more,” said Farzad Kohanzadeh, owner of the 2,300-square-foot Livonia Glatt Market. 

The missing carts often don’t turn up — Kohanzadeh said he once saw an unfamiliar truck come through the neighborhood late at night, picking up carts off the street, never to return. 

But when missing carts do reappear, it can be in very unlikely locations. 

“We have people who call us from the Hollywood Hills, ‘Come and pick up your shopping cart,’ ” Glatt Mart owner Meir Davidpour said. “We had one by Dodger Stadium.”

For now, the “one-way rental” of a store’s shopping cart has proved popular among customers, so much so that all four of the stores have hired an independent contractor to retrieve the carts from around the neighborhood, at a cost of $2 a cart. 

On a Tuesday afternoon, a beat-up truck pulled up to the driveway of Elat Market laden with carts collected from driveways, alleyways and doorways, as well as sidewalks, front lawns and street curbs. The carts sat on the truck’s wide, low flatbed, held in place by a mixture of straps and chains. 

The driver pulled the carts off the back of the truck, one by one. 

“Twelve,” he called out to Mordechai when all the yellow-handled carts were on the pavement. 

Mordechai, who gave only his first name, manages the market’s loading dock (which doubles as rear entrance) on a part-time basis; he made a note on a sheet of paper, and the truck, which also unloaded a couple of Glatt Mart’s red-and-black carts, turned back into the street, away from Glatt Mart, to continue its rounds. 

All the stores’ regulars know about the cart-collecting truck. 

Mermell Nicholas, 93, travels by bus from his apartment in Beverly Hills to shop at the kosher markets twice a week. On a Tuesday afternoon, he was sitting on a bench near a bus stop at the intersection of Pico and Robertson. Next to him was a Glatt Mart cart with a few bags inside. 

He said he’d seen the cart-collecting truck the previous week, and said that watching the workers lift the heavy steel carts onto the truck’s flatbed was “amazing.” 

“You push it down, the back wheels, and the front end flies up,” Nicholas said. 

Of course, not everybody likes the truck — or the carts it collects. 

“The only time we have peace is Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday morning. Other than that, you park your car at your own risk,” said Lisbeth Caiaffa, who has lived three doors down from the Elat Market parking lot since 2003. “It’s a war zone during the week.”

Spotting a reporter taking notes, a few neighbors stopped for a moment in front of Caiaffa’s lawn. 

“They’ve hit my car,” a broad-shouldered man wearing a baseball cap said, before continuing down Wooster. “Those trucks are wide.” 

But if the trucks and the carts are an annoyance to some, the biggest complaints from the neighbors relate to parking. Caiaffa expressed frustration at having to compete for street parking with the customers from Elat Market and Glatt Mart. 

Some will even park a cart in the street, “as a strategy to block off a parking space,” Caiaffa said. 

She is just as annoyed with customers who idle in their cars in the middle of the street, waiting to make the turn into the Elat or Glatt parking lots. 

“The LAPD needs to come down here and start ticketing people for blocking the street,” said Brooks Thomas, who lives on Wooster. 

Paul Neuman, director of communications for Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents the district, said that some neighbors have contacted the office. 

“There have been some constituent calls and comments, but they have lessened a bit as of late,” Neuman said, adding that the markets had increased their staffing of their parking lots recently. 

The new city ordinance doesn’t apply to existing stores — although the city has instructed its planning department to conduct a study on how to apply the requirement to keep carts on grocery properties. And, if that requirement were implemented, it could require the owners of the Pico-Robertson markets to hire additional staff to escort every shopping cart that went out their doors, no matter whether the customer wanted assistance or not. 

The stores already do some of this, to varying degrees. Moreover, in addition to paying the independent cart collector for his services, the groceries’ owners also periodically instruct their staff to pick up any carts left outside in the area immediately surrounding their stores. 

But the other “containment systems” — physical barriers and electronic wheel-locking mechanisms — aren’t options for these grocers. 

For one, all four stores have parking lots that are not immediately adjacent to their buildings, which means customers must cross city-owned or private property — streets and alleys, for example — so erecting a physical barrier to prevent the carts from leaving the stores would also cut off customer access to the parking lot. Furthermore, according to Elat Market’s Novin and Glatt Mart’s Davidpour, the city will not allow the grocery store owners to install the electronic perimeters that are necessary to run a wheel-locking system that would cross those city-owned sidewalks or alleys. 

And as for the truck that currently trolls the streets in Pico-Robertson, that wouldn’t satisfy the new ordinance as written. 

“That’s not a containment system. That’s a retrieval system,” said Tom Rothmann of the Los Angeles City Planning Department. “The point is to not let them go off the site.”

Rothmann said that the future for Pico-Robertson shoppers might look something like other cities, where folding carts — “granny wagons” — are sold at the register “for a nominal fee.” 

“People in New York walk more than half a block with their groceries,” he said. 

“We would love to set up barriers,” Glatt Mart’s Davidpour said. He and his co-owners also own Cambridge Farms, a kosher grocery store in Valley Village, and there they use a wheel-locking system for the store and its adjacent lot, Davidpour said.

“We have about 300 shopping carts and we haven’t lost a single one in the last four years,” Davidpour said.  

According to a leading manufacturer of cart-retention systems, what Los Angeles won’t allow has already been done in other cities in California, including Sacramento, San Francisco and Long Beach. 

“It’s a matter of what the particular design calls for — where the perimeter stopping point is to be placed — and what are the city’s proclivities,” John French, the founder and CEO of Carttronics, said. His San Diego-based company has installed 3,000 cart retention systems in 35 counties. “In the case of L.A., I would think that they would be willing to be accommodating.”

In the meantime, many customers appear to be doing what they can to make sure that the carts don’t go missing. One Friday afternoon, I saw a woman heading toward Pico Glatt Mart pick up a cart on her way to the store and push it down the block, into the store. 

And it turned out that Mermell Nicholas, the 93-year-old on the bench at the neighborhood’s eponymous intersection, wasn’t waiting for the bus that stops on the south side of Pico. He got up, took his bags out of the shopping cart and carried them across the street to the stop for the bus that heads north on Robertson. 

Nicholas explained that pushing the cart across Pico would make it more difficult for the cart to make it back to the store. 

But was it really necessary to take the cart down the block in the first place? 

Nicholas — who was carrying 20 pounds of fruit and vegetables, not to mention eggs, soup mix, and some other items — put it this way.

“Every bit helps.”

Trader Joe’s comes up against some tough cookies


Trader Joe’s got slammed last week by a combination of hysteria and hoarding by kosher bakers when word leaked out that its semisweet chocolate chips were going from pareve to dairy.

“It’s just really sad,” said Shana Fishman, a Beverlywood mother of four who stocked up on 20 bags of chocolate chips at the Trader Joe’s in West Hollywood last week. “It means that I’ll have to use bitter chocolate chips in my cookies, and it means that I’ll have to pay more for my chocolate chips.”

Trader Joe’s semisweet chocolate chips were widely valued as the best, most affordable non-dairy chocolate chips on the market. Until now they have borne an “OK pareve” designation, essential for kosher consumers who do not eat meat and dairy products in the same meal. But the supplier for Trader Joe’s has changed its production procedure, and the chips will now be designated as dairy by Brooklyn-based OK-Kosher Certification.

“We are meeting with Trader Joe’s and encouraging them to go back to the old protocol and get those chips back to pareve,” Rabbi Chaim Fogelman, director of public relations at the OK, said on May 21. “So far, there is no movement in that area, but we are working on it.”

Trader Joe’s released a statement last week defending its chocolate chips.

“The ingredients used in our semisweet chocolate chips have not changed, there are no dairy ingredients in the item, and the chips are made on equipment dedicated to non-dairy chocolate,” a company statement said.

But the chips are bagged on machinery that also bags milk chocolate chips, and the supplier recently switched from a wet to a dry cleaning regimen on the bagging machine. “These changes … triggered the need for an FDA regulated, dairy-related allergen statement, and this in turn brought about a change in the Kosher certification for our item — going from ‘Kosher Parve’ to ‘Kosher Dairy,’ ” the statement read.

An officer at OK Kosher Certification said supervising rabbis can no longer guarantee that no errant milk chocolate chips are included in the semisweet bags.

“Currently, the monitoring of the level of separation between pareve and dairy is no longer sufficient to meet the requirements of OK Pareve,” a statement released by the OK read.

As the news leaked out through mournful Facebook posts, kosher bakers — along with vegans and the lactose intolerant — flooded Trader Joe’s with an unprecedented barrage of calls and e-mails. A petition created on change.org had 4,100 signatures as of the middle of this week.

Trader Joe’s locations reported that consumers were buying 20, 80, even 170 bags at a time.

While many so-called “haimish” brands – Jewish companies that make only kosher foods — produce pareve chocolate chips, those chips are generally waxy and flavorless. The silky, rich Trader Joe’s morsels melt to perfect consistency in cookies and taste like actual chocolate. They are good enough to almost make up for the fact that kosher bakers have to forgo real butter in cookies they serve after a Shabbat lunch of grilled chicken, roasted vegetables and quinoa salad.

Chocolate manufacturing requires cocoa butter and cocoa, but those are expensive ingredients when not purchased in massive volumes. Small kosher brands know their consumers aren’t willing to pay what it would cost to produce premium chocolate chips, said Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, director of the Kosher Information Bureau.

“They often can’t even legally call it chocolate. It’s ‘chocolate flavored,’ ” Eidlitz said.

Whole Foods carries Enjoy Life chocolate chips that are kosher pareve. They run $4.99 a bag, while the Trader Joe’s chips are $2.29 a bag. Kosher brands range between $2 and $4.

Some consumers were hoping the Trader Joe’s chips would be designated as the less restrictive DE, which stands for dairy equipment, signifying that the chips were manufactured on equipment also used for dairy.

But OK said the chips have to be considered actually dairy because milk chocolate chips could end up in the bags. Eidlitz said because the chips are complete units that do not fully dissolve into the other ingredients, the “one-sixtieth rule” that can be used to nullify trace amounts of dairy does not apply.

But Eidlitz is holding out hope. In 2006, Duncan Hines cake mixes went dairy, and consumer blowback brought the pareve label back. Same with Stella D’oro cookies, which in 2003 nixed a plan to switch to dairy after a kosher outcry.

A spokesman at the OK said the story is not over.

“We are working to rectify this issue with the manufacturer, and hopefully we will have good news soon,” the OK officer said.

On May 17, Trader Joe’s issued the following glimmer of hope: “We are evaluating our options and although we cannot guarantee a specific outcome at this time, we realize that for some of our customers this is an important issue.”

Crisis-hit Greek Jews fear for their future


Patricia Alcalay, 24, has been unemployed since she finished her nursing degree in December 2010. Her father lost his job four months ago, a year shy of retirement.

Her older sister, who was studying abroad, meanwhile, found work in the Netherlands and is not coming back to Greece anytime soon.

Stories like these have become common among the Jewish community in Greece, which like the rest of the Greek population is struggling to stay afloat in a country engulfed in the fifth year of an economic crisis that shows no sign of abating.

Approximately 5,000 Jews live in Greece—about 3,500 in Athens, 1,000 in Thessaloniki and the rest scattered elsewhere—and community leaders say they are laboring to maintain Jewish institutions and deal with the additional heavy demands on welfare programs.

Some of the leaders fear a greater threat to the community’s future: an exodus of young, unemployed Jews leaving a country where they see little hope.

“It is a very difficult situation for us because of the financial crisis in Greece. It affects the Jewish community very heavily,” said Benjamin Albalas, the president of the Jewish Community of Athens, an association that provides funding for the city’s Jewish institutions. “We are supporting two synagogues, the school, the cemetery, a community center and a number of needy people that is growing all the time.”

As the need for community aid has increased, the funding to the communal institution has decreased sharply.

Much of its revenue comes from Jewish community-owned commercial and residential properties dating back before World War II, when some 78,000 Jews lived in Greece—many in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, a community that was almost wiped out entirely in the Holocaust.

But in the past year the Greek government, faced with chronic income tax evasion, imposed steep property taxes in a bid to raise state income. “And because of the general situation, the people who rent our properties have either left or they have asked us to lower rents,” Albalas said.

In addition, he said, donations from hard-hit community members have dropped 50 percent.

Albalas declined to give specific figures, either for income or for the needs.

As part of the harsh austerity measures imposed on Athens, the Greek government has slashed pensions, lowered public and private sector wages, and reduced tens of thousands of state jobs, all of which have hurt the weaker sectors of the Jewish community.

“Our two main problems now since the crisis are that pensions have gone down and there is very big unemployment,” said Isaak Mordechai, the deputy head of the Athens welfare committee. “Pensions have diminished so much, people cannot live.”

The Jewish Community of Athens is providing direct assistance—financial help, supermarket food vouchers, and medical and psychological support—to some 60 people. “But it is clear that a lot more people are going to need help,” he said.

In February, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Board of Governors voted to grant about $1 million over two years to help Greece’s Jewish communal institutions continue operating. Other Jewish groups have offered aid, too.

However, community leaders in Athens and Thessaloniki say they have not been officially informed of the decision and the money has yet to arrive.

The money, though, will focus on Israel education, and is earmarked to help the Jewish communities of Athens and Thessaloniki cover specific initiatives, according to JAFI spokesman Josh Berkman. Among those initiatives are shlichim (Israel emissaries to the community), counselors for the Jewish summer camp and financial assistance to the Jewish school in Athens.

“I can assure you we are in touch with the Jewish leadership in these communities,” Berkman said.

As of late February, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee had donated $330,000 for welfare and school scholarship to the Athens Jewish Community, according to a news release.

Such funding, however, will not keep the the institutions alive and support the needy.

National unemployment is more than 21 percent and tops 50 percent among those under 25. Albalas says the levels are about the same in the Jewish community.

For the young, the future looks like a wasteland.

“I have occasionally had some part-time jobs, but nothing permanent. It’s very disappointing,” said Alcalay, who has been searching for work as a nurse for 16 months and is considering abandoning her profession.

“I’m looking for a job in any field now because I need the money. I don’t have anything else apart from my parents, and both of them are also unemployed,” she said.

Alcalay is not alone.

“There are many of my friends who have just finished university this year or last and can’t find jobs,” said Evie Leon, 24, a former head of the Jewish Youth of Athens.

The community tries to help. Jewish businessmen network to find jobs for the young unemployed. Two young men receive stipends for taking part in daily minyan.

“We are talking about simple jobs, we are not head hunting,” Mordechai said.

But ultimately it is not enough.

“The unemployment is so bad that unfortunately they are leaving for abroad, either to study or find work,” said David Saltiel, who heads Thessaloniki’s Jewish community, where the situation is equally grim, and is president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece.

Leon says her friends in Greece are “depressed and stressed.” The rest have left and “are not planning on coming back until the situation gets much, much better.” Even though she has a job, she also is “looking into opportunities to leave the country.”

Alcalay’s 25-year-old sister is among those who left to study and did not return after she found a job with an IT company in the Netherlands.

“She wants to come back in a few years, but I don’t recommend it,” Alcalay said. “Even though I love her, I say don’t come back because you will be unemployed.”

Those who leave are doing what they can for themselves and their families. But leaders know and fear the toll this will have on the community.

“When our young generation leaves and becomes well established abroad, I think it will be difficult for them to return,” Saltiel said. “We will become a community of old people.”

Following the carp — the fish in gefilte — from lake to plate


Big fish, cheap fish; sport fish, gefilte fish.

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, that’s a decent summary of the situation for carp today.

The fish has its share of devoted fans — some like it dead on a plate, others prefer it alive and tugging on a hook — nevertheless, by and large, carp still struggles with a bad reputation that’s as hard to shake as fish oil smell from clothes.

“I’m not a carp expert, but it’s a major ingredient for us in gefilte fish,” Paul Bensabat, one of the Manischewitz Co.’s two CEOs, told me.

“Carp, mullet, whitefish,” Bensabat said, rattling off some of the species that go into gefilte fish, a food with no particular symbolism that has long been a staple on the Sabbath and festival tables of Ashkenazi Jews, and is widely consumed every Passover. “Depending on the type of formulation you want, there’s more fish or less fish in the different styles,” he added.

The fish are shipped whole from the Great Lakes region where they’re caught to the Manischewitz factory in New Jersey, where they are processed into more than 50 different varieties of gefilte fish. The vast majority of Manischewitz-brand gefilte fish, Bensabat said, includes carp.

But even a gefilte fishmonger like Bensabat can’t deny that, broadly speaking, carp isn’t a highly regarded species.

“Carp doesn’t have a great name, for reasons that are beyond me,” he said.

That it’s cheap might have something to do with it.

“I was told that, by your family recipe of gefilte fish, you can tell how well-off people were,” Motti Polityko, the owner of Gordon’s Fish Emporium on Pico, said. “If the recipe consists primarily or solely of carp, it means you were dirt poor — and that was my family.”

Every year, around Rosh Hashanah and Passover, Polityko spends the week prior to the holiday filling orders for people making gefilte fish, and each order is slightly different from the next. Most customers buy his “classic fish mix,” made from three different types of fish (he wouldn’t say which kinds); a good number of customers want to make their gefilte fish exactly according to their grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s recipe.

“Some people will take a filet and grind it at home,” Polityko said. “Some people will not only allow me to grind it, but they will also allow me to season the fish and shape it so they can take it home and cook it. And some people want me to cook it here also, and they pick it up here already cooked. We meet them at every stage of the way.” The stock is fresh but not alive; it comes packed on ice from the Great Lakes, including German carp and Buffalo carp as well as Spiegel carp, but the last has to be special-ordered.

A tiny fraction of Gordon’s customers actually ask for the fish whole, without even a slit in its belly. Usually that’s for reasons of kashrut — Passover is a time when many Jews observe more stringent restrictions on what they will and won’t eat, after all — but there is also another time of year when Polityko sells whole carp.

“Chrismastime, I have lots of Poles, Czechs and Germans calling me for carp as well,” he said. “Guess what they call it — ‘Jewish carp.’ ”

It was a Christmas carp at a friend’s house that turned Reggie McLeod, the publisher and editor of Big River, a bimonthly lifestyle magazine that covers the upper Mississippi River, into a carp fan. He remembers how his own father always told him that carp was inedible, but now he counts the fish among his favorites.

“People are kind of crazy about these sorts of things,” McLeod said of various food prejudices. “A lot of people like shrimp and lobster — and they’re bugs.”

Some call carp ugly, but McLeod notes that koi, the very expensive and beautifully colored fish that can be found swimming in Japanese gardens around the world, are relatives of the common carp.

“It’s exactly the same fish,” McLeod said.

In 2008, McLeod started a carp-cooking contest in Big River magazine as a way of promoting carp as a fish worth eating. “We had two entries last year,” he said, “and not surprisingly, they both won — first and second prize.”

McLeod still remembers that first Christmas carp, though; it was in his friend’s basement — alive, swimming around in a tub of water.

“I said, ‘Joe, there’s a carp in your washtub,’ ” McLeod recalled. “And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s Christmas dinner.’ ”

“The Carp in the Bathtub” is the title of Barbara Cohen’s 1972 children’s book, in which two children try to save a fish from meeting its fate in advance of their Passover seder. Cooks traditionally put the carp in the tub for a few days to fatten it up before cooking.

These days, for Jews in Los Angeles wanting to follow exactingly the old traditions, there is at least one store where live carp can be purchased — the Seafood Paradise Fish Market in Rosemead, which gets its stock from a farm in Northern California. According to manager Vincent Truong, almost all of Seafood Paradise’s customers are Asian or Asian-American, and most of those who buy carp are Chinese and Vietnamese.

“We usually cook it with soup,” Truong said. “It’s very tasty.”

There’s also one more way to find a live carp in Los Angeles: Grab a pole.

“Carp are in virtually every body of fresh water in Southern California,” Andrew Hughan of the California Department of Fish and Game told me. “They’re what’s called a non-regulated species. There’s no limit and no season — so you can catch them to your heart’s content.”

Most anglers who fish for carp don’t eat what they catch, though.

“We practice catch and release angling purely out of respect for another animal’s life along with the environment it lives in,” Wayne Boon,  director of the American Carp Society, wrote in an e-mail. Boon mostly fishes the lakes around L.A., but he said that some sections of the Los Angeles River are known to be home to carp as well.

Whether the carp in any given body of water is safe to eat is another matter. “Carp are in the middle range among game fish,” said Sherri Norris, executive director of the California Indian Environmental Alliance, a group that works to educate members of tribal communities about the dangers posed by legacy mining toxins, like mercury, that can seep into certain species of fish that live in particular areas.

In some waterways, carp is off limits to all people; in others, adult men and women beyond childbearing age may eat the fish sparingly.

“In that case,” Norris said, “you really do need to know for a fish like carp whether the body is highly contaminated or not.”

For instance, the carp in Magic Johnson Park Lake, an urban lake in South Los Angeles that is stocked by the California Department of Fish and Game with trout and catfish, should not be eaten by anyone, according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Anglers, for their part, are mostly out in search of big carp to catch — and those might be the most dangerous carp to eat. Carp can live for decades, and the longer they stay in any body of water, the more pollutants they can pick up.

What’s more, the big carp are also believed to be less tasty.

“In the case of Carp, the smaller fish — up to 10 pounds — are the tastiest, so I’m told,” Boon told me.

Then again, if your carp’s ultimate destiny is to become gefilte fish, you can just douse it in horseradish.

Apparent arson destroys N.Y. kosher market set to reopen


An apparent arson attack destroyed a renovated kosher supermarket in New York City that was set to reopen.

The Seasons market in the Kew Gardens Hills neighborhood of Queens reportedly was set alight early Monday morning, during the Passover holiday. The attack ruined the inventory and destroyed most of the building, according to the New York Post. The New York Police Department is investigating the incident.

Security cameras showed two men pouring flammable liquid into vent covers on the building’s roof and setting it alight, the Post reported. The sprinkler system activated and doused the store all day, until the end of the holiday, flooding the supermarket.

Seasons had been scheduled to reopen Wednesday. It has three other branches: on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, as well as in suburban Scarsdale in Westchester County and Lawrence on Long Island.

A message posted on the store’s Facebook page Wednesday read, “Thank you to all of you who have expressed their concerns. Your outpouring of support is greatly appreciated.”

Table for none?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The market is different here,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community-supported agriculture grows on local Jews


Every Wednesday at noon, the Westside Jewish Community Center becomes a market where families pick up fresh, seasonal and certified organic fruits and vegetables grown by farmers who are part of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) project established by the Tierra Miguel Foundation. About 12 families participate in the program, which was launched last May and which does not require JCC membership.

“People love the produce,” JCC Executive Director Brian Greene said. “They feel good about buying vegetables straight from the farm and supporting organic farming.”

Inspired by a Jewish Journal editorial about ethical eating (“Moral Diet,” Jan. 5, 2007), Greene began looking into affiliating with a community-supported agriculture project giving families the opportunity to purchase a seasonal or annual share in an organic farm for a predetermined payment and, in return, receive a weekly box full of fruits and vegetables.

“This is a community-building activity,” Greene said, explaining that the project connects families with farmers, allowing both to share responsibility for stewardship of the land.

Additionally, Sinai Temple is starting the first Tuv Ha’Aretz community-supported agriculture project in Southern California. Tuv Ha’Aretz is the first Jewish CSA in North America and a program of Hazon, a New York-based community organization that sponsors physical challenges and engages in food-related work.

Families who sign up — who do not need to be Sinai Temple members — will commit to buying an entire season of fresh, organic produce from the McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo.

Besides receiving the food, the families are required to participate in a social action component by volunteering at least once during the year at the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition.

“We are creating a community of people who care about health and the sustainability of the world,” said Michelle Grant, Sinai Temple’s Green Committee co-chair.

A meeting for families interested in Sinai Temple’s Tuv Ha’Aretz project, slated to begin in the spring, will take place on Jan. 22. For more information or to R.S.V.P., call (310) 481-3243.

Those interested in becoming shareholders in the Westside JCC’s community- supported agriculture program can call (323) 938-2531.

Growing taste for kosher boils in U.S. melting pot


Hispanic and Asian foods are so different — in taste, textures, ingredients (even the utensils with which they are eaten) — that it seemed a strange pairing when the annual Expo Comida Latina was combined with the All Asian Food trade show at the Los Angeles Convention Center recently.

Yet among the 500 exhibitors offering food service establishments everything from refrigeration equipment to signage, etc., there was one with an “intangible” asset: kosher certification, something that intrigues ethnic food providers of all stripes.

Sitting alone in a simple booth with a few brochures and a backdrop banner declaring, “Star-K Kosher Certification / Kosher Supervision Worldwide / A Vital Ingredient in Your Success,” Steve Sichel, director of development for the Baltimore-based agency, fought off fatigue. He had raced to the airport right after Simchat Torah to fly across the country overnight.

Sichel is no stranger to conferences where he is the only man wearing a kippah: “I attend these kinds of shows all over the world.”

Kosher has come a long way from designating merely a set of obscure dietary restrictions that are strictly observed by only a minuscule fraction of the world’s population. According to a 2005 Mintel Organization International report, Kosher is a $14.6 billion industry and ranks among the fastest-growing segments in the retail food business.

“Outside of Israel and North America, Star-K has offices in Europe, Asia and Latin America,” Sichel reported. “Obviously, our consumers are not in India and China, but a growing number of food processing plants are interested in kosher certification in order to broaden their export markets, and they call on our mashgihim based in Bombay and Shanghai.”

The increased availability and desirability of kosher food, whether imported or domestic, is reflected in its astonishing growth rate. “While retail food sales grew at a rate of 6 percent last year, kosher food sales grew 15 percent,” Sichel told the audience attending his expo seminar, “Kosher Certification 101.”

The turnout for Sichel’s workshop was small: only a minyan of men and women, both foreigners and locals. Undiscouraged, Sichel went through his complete bilingual (English and Spanish) slide presentation: “The Latest Wrap About Kosher Hispanic Food — Lo Ultimo en Comida Latina Kosher.”

As Sichel likes to tell his audiences, “You don’t have to be Jewish to have kosher products.” In fact, Star-K is a member of the American Tortilla Industry Association, and Los Angeles’ own Tumaro’s Gourmet Tortillas — the country’s best-selling flavored (savory and sweet) tortilla brand — is certified kosher.

Nor do you have to be Jewish to buy, consume and enjoy kosher products. “The second largest consumer group for kosher food is Muslims,” Sichel noted. “There are 10 million Muslims in the United States, and in the absence of widespread halal certification, they have come to rely on kosher certification.”

According to Sichel, others who prefer to eat kosher include Seventh-day Adventists, vegetarians and health-conscious consumers.

“The kosher symbol is seen as an indication that there is another set of eyes keeping watch on what the company is doing,” he said.

The growing number of non-Jewish consumers of kosher food has not been lost on the supermarket chains.

“Given a choice, supermarkets prefer to stock kosher products — particularly products whose kashrut certification comes from a reliable agency.” he said.

Nor did this growth escape the attention of Diversified Business Communications, the company that owns and operates Expo Comida Latina and All Asian Food Expo, as well as Kosherfest, the country’s largest exhibition of kosher foods. In fact, Kosherfest — which was founded by Menachem Lubinsky 18 years ago and purchased from him by Diversified four years ago — was combined with New York City’s joint Expo Comida Latina and All Asian Food Expo in mid-November.

According to Brian Randall, Diversified’s group vice president for ethnic and cultural foods, Kosherfest, was not held in Los Angeles this year because of an unwritten agreement with Kosher World that the latter would hold kosher trade shows on the West Coast, as it did last spring in Anaheim.

In the meantime, Kosher World has been sold, and the brand dissolved, leaving it up to Randall and Diversified to decide whether to bring Kosherfest to Los Angeles next year.

Randall predicted more avenues for the growth of kosher products.

“We are going to see kosher kid products in all cuisines,” he said. “In addition, organic food is a nexus with kosher food for the growing healthy food market. Jewish parents want the best for their kids. Look for major kosher food producers, like Manischewitz, to introduce organic lines under their labels.”

Smith Barney doesn’t manage this portfolio. My heart does.


A conservative, long-term investor, I’ll still admit to my sometimes ridiculous attraction to the highs and lows of risk.
Question is: How much can
I — or anyone — really handle?
 

At 22, I’d fearlessly seek the beta — or risk factor — in anticipation of the alpha — or excess — returns. I’d diversify my portfolio, but often follow a hot dot, whose value would quickly double, drop, then creep back up. When the market tanked? I reveled in my seemingly endless time horizon.

 
My strategy began to shift after some market volatility, which, combined with maturity lent a better understanding of my own assets and risk tolerance. I became more moderate, investing in diverse, well-researched stocks for a longer-term gain.

 
Still, my rate of return seemed nominal.

 
At times, I’d considered leaving the market altogether, but trusty advisers would encourage me to stay the course.

 
Investment decisions are best executed without emotion, they’d say.
Yeah, right, say I.

 
See, Smith Barney doesn’t manage this portfolio. My heart does.
Disturbingly analogous to the omnipotent stock market, in dating, the alpha of a long-term relationship drives us to invest even more: our hearts, minds, bodies and souls.

 
We’ll work diligently to review and build our personal assets (be it career, hobbies, looks, personality or all of the above); establish our search criteria (determine characteristics of a partner); and perform severe — if often frustrating — due diligence (dating the gamut to find that sometimes elusive, but impassioned and fabled, soul mate).

 
As our investment pool in this feverish search shifts, so do our emotions and risk tolerance — often dramatically. And sometimes unexpectedly.

 
High-risk (newbie) investors might trade short-term losses (“just hanging out”) for long-term gains (dating for crazy love). Moderates (more mature) might accept some risk (getting back out there post-burn) for higher ultimate returns (falling in love … again). Lowest risk takers (seasoned cynics) may seek the safest route (maybe even … gulp … settling).

 
At 22 and for a while thereafter, the process was thrilling. Working to build my own assets, I was myself an actual beta — figuring my way and learning fancy investment terms while marathoning my lifestyle.

 
My diversified portfolio included mostly my peers: the drummer, the elevator crush who made me blush, the student, the party-guy who might actually call, the tree-hugging college friend, and even the swamped getting-established professional. My relationships gave me butterflies and stomachaches, but I withstood the volatility, hoping for high returns.

 
The alpha on these short-term buys sometimes seemed negligible, but experience built my assets for the long term. It also lowered my risk tolerance — a dangerous bout in my maturing stage, wherein people have paired off, leaving bounds of skeptics.

 
What was “edge” seemed like attitude; opinions became stubbornness. “Stability” translated to boredom; “Fun” often meant noncommittal. And as I became more selective, my investment pool downsized.

 
Uh oh.

 
Determined still, I went moderate-to-low with lower-betas who seemed ready to commit: the great guy my age, the goal-oriented (too busy) professional and the creative guy who knew how to channel it.

 
Ratings seemed positive, but earnings ultimately disappointed. Our stock split, and hearts got broken.

 
Perhaps my search criteria was askew; I considered old standbys, friends; I diversified madly to mitigate losses, but my risk skyrocketed with my diminishing tolerance and time horizon.

 
Should I seek growth or the undervalued stock? Hedge? Strattle? Bail out? Or, shoot endlessly for off-the-chart heart-jumps that put me in the red, then black within a matter of days?

 
Not quite ready to index, I sought value with potential growth. I still sought the beta.

 
After a market slump, and bordering the defeatist pull-out, a tip off to a charming, intelligent (younger) option surfaced. I’d stay the course for long-term growth, I thought.

 
First, it was blissful and fun; carefree and light; we’d stay up late and dance around who liked whom. He called me “hot” instead of pretty, bought me chocolates and wrote me sweet cards. He called too late.

 
And the best part: he believed in “the one.” The one!

 
Things were swell until liabilities in my beta’s limited repertoire emerged. He struggled to fully identify with me. My skin felt comfortable; his was still filling out. He wasn’t cynical, which, to me, meant he didn’t reflect…. Or maybe, at 25, hadn’t yet lived.

 
Despite my short-term disappointment, I’d already learned to sell out sooner in lieu of a more “appropriate” investment.

 
See, while he was still diversifying, I was — apparently — ready to focus my assets.

 
General rule says: the greater the risk, the greater the return. And in today’s rough relationship market, determining risk tolerance may indeed help assuage some long-term “damage.” Problem is: it may also risk a lower alpha.

 
And that’s no fun.

 
Maybe — ultimately — we’re all just betas making our way; our yields to maturity are just different.

 

Dara Lehon, a freelance writer living in New York City, can be reached at dlehon@yahoo.com.

R.E. Hard Crash? Soft Landing? Bursting Balloon? Leaking Balloon?


Mark Cohen thinks those doomsday scenarios about an impending Southland housing crash miss the mark. And the founder and president of Beverly Hills-based Cohen Financial Group has learned a thing or two about real estate over the last 20 years.

With an MBA from USC and a law degree from Loyola Law School, the 47-year-old mortgage broker helped secure nearly $1.1 billion in home loans last year, making him the No. 1 individual mortgage loan originator in the country, according to Mortgage Originator Magazine.

When not spending time with his three children and wife Laurie, Cohen has been involved in the local Jewish community.

A member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Real Estate and Construction Division, Cohen has also played an active role at Sinai Temple for more than two decades. He and his wife have long supported ATID (which translates as future in Hebrew), a Sinai program that trains future Jewish leaders. They also recently contributed funds toward the writing of a new Torah.

The Jewish Journal spoke to Cohen about the recent reversal in the local housing market.

Jewish Journal: Why has the housing market slowed in Southern California?

Mark Cohen: Southern California is a great place to live, which is why so many people want to live here. However, that also means the supply of apartments, houses and condos is limited. Over time, this supply-and-demand situation in housing has pushed prices up dramatically, pricing many people completely out of the market. Added to this are the interest-rate hikes by the Fed. Rates have increased by about 2 1/2 percent over the past few years, and that has made the cost of borrowing more expensive, closing the door on even more potential homeowners.

JJ: If the Fed raises interest rates to keep inflation in check, will that help or hurt the market?

MC: The jury is still out on whether or not the Fed will continue to raise rates. It all depends on whether or not they can keep inflation under control. If there are more rate increases in the near future, they will likely have a negative effect on the market in the short term. However, if the Fed is successful in keeping inflation in check, they can keep the door open for future rate cuts should there be a slowdown in the economy. Recent economic reports are showing that inflation has moderated for the time being, which means the Fed’s tightening cycle may be over. And that would have a positive impact on the real estate market.

JJ: What areas of the Southland are most at risk of having the bottom drop out? Why?

MC: It’s difficult to single out specific areas in Southern California that have the most risk. However, right now, San Diego seems to have an oversupply of new condominiums on the market due to all the speculation that occurred over the past few years. There’s also usually a deeper correction in areas where there has been excess in new construction. Palm Springs is an example of this. On the other side of the coin, the Westside, South Bay and San Fernando Valley will likely fare better during a slowdown because of the lack of new construction, limited supply of homes and desirability.

All in all, Southern California is a great place to live and historically, over time, real estate here has proven to be a great investment.

JJ: Do you anticipate a hard or soft landing locally?

MC: A soft lading will depend on several factors. First, the direction of interest rates will have a big impact, as will the strength of the local economy. As long as jobs are being created and the economy stays at its current growth levels, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll experience a hard landing.

Obviously, the actions by the Fed in the next few months will affect the local real estate market for the foreseeable future.

JJ: How long do you expect the market to remain soft?

MC: It really depends on the economy. If we have continued job creation and continued economic growth, the market will recover more quickly. Fewer jobs created and slower growth will mean a longer slowdown. The real driving force behind the real estate market isn’t interest rates; it’s the economy. That’s because even though fixed-interest rates have risen recently, they are still at manageable levels.

JJ: How is this housing market of today different from the boom-and-bust cycle of the late 1980s and early 1990s?

MC: This is a very different market from the one we saw in the late 1980s or early 1990s, primarily because the Southern California economy is now much more diverse. During that period, the economy here was based on the aerospace, defense and entertainment industries. Today our economy is much more diverse, with financial services, technology, biotechnology and other industries playing major roles on the region’s vitality. A more diverse economy means the chances of a hard economic landing are reduced, and this, in turn, helps to support the housing market.

JJ: What kind of industries might suffer in a soft housing market, and how could that impact the entire local economy?

MC: The real estate industry has a large effect on the Southern California economy, because there are so many people employed in it either directly or indirectly, including lenders, title companies, escrow agents, real estate sales agents, contractors, and developers, This means that a prolonged slowdown would hurt the folks employed in these industries and the overall local economy as well.

JJ: How much do you expect housing in Southern California to drop in the next year? What price ranges will be hit hardest?

MC: I don’t expect prices will fall more than 5 percent to 10 percent from the market highs of a couple years ago, with the hardest hit homes being those in the mid-level price range between $1 million to $3 million.

JJ: What advice would you give to someone who is considering buying or selling a home in Los Angeles?

MC: I’m a big proponent of home ownership. Don’t we all work hard so we can eventually own our own home? My advice is for people to feel comfortable living in a new home for at least five years so interest rates and real-estate-cycle influences are reduced. I don’t think we’re in a market that allows for short-term housing speculation, since the market is extremely volatile.

Jewish Journal September 1, 2006 43

T

The Circuit


A World of Food

World Ethnic Market/KosherWorld Show manager Phyllis Koegel presented a Buyer of the Year Award to Tamara Dorrell, Safeway manager, national categories, ethnic. The World Ethnic Market was held recently at the Anaheim Convention Center.

L.A. Helps the Gulf

Four members of Temple Beth El in San Pedro took a hands-on approach to charity when they went on a relief mission to Gulfport, Miss., last week. The four accompanied Rabbi Charles Briskin to help in rebuilding and reconstruction efforts for the coastal city devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Briskin, along with Alan Rowe of San Pedro, Vicki Hulbert of Palos Verdes Estates, Ben Pogorelsky of Rolling Hills Estates and David Burton of Rancho Santa Margarita, are part of a citywide delegation of Jews and Christians participating in this relief mission sponsored by the Southern California Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Community Relations Committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Grant A.M.E. Church and the Southern California A.M.E. Ministerial Alliance.

“Tikkun Olam, the ethical imperative to work to repair the world by responding to crisis and the needs of the larger community is one of Judaism’s central values,” Briskin said. “By going to Gulfport, we are doing our small part to repair, literally, one small corner of our world.”

Briskin said he hopes not only to contribute time, energy and labor, but also to return home with valuable lessons learned about the faith, hope and cooperation that prevails within this devastated region.

For more information, call (310) 833-2467 or e-mail; rabbibriskin@bethelsp.org.

Consulate’s “Israel 101”

The L.A. consulate general of Israel hosted a group of 40 sixth-graders from Pressman Academy for an “Israel 101” event before their class field trip to Israel next month. Students participated in Israeli dancing, word association games, videos and an educational skit highlighting Israel’s high-tech industry, performed by members of the consulate staff. Apart from the mouthwatering Israeli chocolates, the students got a special treat when Consul General Ehud Danoch greeted them and emphasized that while the scenery and holy sites would undoubtedly leave an impression on them, it will be the connections they make with their Israeli counterparts that will most affect them. During their 10-day tour of Israel the students will experience the action of Tel Aviv, the majesty of Jerusalem and Masada, and catch a glimpse of life on a kibbutz.

Just Smile

It was Lladro&tilde and African dishes recently on Rodeo Drive when Lladro&tilde, the renowned Spanish house of porcelain, joined forces with Operation Smile to raise money for free reconstructive facial surgery to children in developing countries worldwide. A special porcelain sculpture, “Let Me Help You,” was formally unveiled at a VIP reception at the Lladro&tilde Rodeo Drive Boutique.

To set the mood for the African trip, Lladro which will sponsor it with the funds raised, transformed the boutique into a visual homage to the Kenyan landscape in blues, reds, yellows and oranges to reflect a Kenyan sunset, while Barbuda trees recreated the greenery native to the region. Guests enjoyed African music, and cocktails and sampled unusual goodies, like groundnut soup garnished with tiny bananas, Nyama Choma (barbecued meat in the Kariokor style), M’Chuzi Wa Kuku (coconut chicken), Smaki Na Nazi (coconut fish), Samosa (meat-filled pastries) and Irio (a pea, corn and potato dish served as a minipancake, topped with East African salad relish).

OK, I am not certain if it was kosher, but I would have to pronounce it to ask, but I do know the food was yummy and the desserts amazing. Great stuff like, Mini Mount Kenya’s (minicoupe with peach ice cream topped with diced, rum-soaked pineapple; mango, and a dollop of whipped cream) and Mahamri (fried dough with powdered sugar). What could be bad about a doughnut with powdered sugar?

On hand were celebs like Operation Smile spokeswoman and angelic actress Roma Downey, who was with her husband, super- reality show guru Mark Burnett; Kathleen Magee, co-founder, Operation Smile; Bill Magee, son of co-founders Kathleen and William Magee; Safa Hummel, CEO, Lladro USA; Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb; Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad, and Lorraine Bradley, L.A. City human relations commissioner (and daughter of former Mayor Tom Bradley).

Lladro’s goal is to raise $150,000 by donating 10 percent of the retail price of all nationwide sales of the “Let Me Help You” sculpture between March and October 2006. For more information, visit

The Ultimate Taste Test


Inside Kosher World, the recent “for-the-trade” food show, you had to remind yourself you were in Anaheim. To my left, two gentlemen negotiated a deal in animated Hebrew. To my right, wine connoisseurs swirled, sniffed and sipped kosher-for-Passover premium varietals from Israel and 11 other countries. Behind me, hungry visitors, beckoned by the intoxicating aromas of smoked meat grilling, speared six varieties of kosher sausage. And at what other trade show would you find a curtained section designated “Davening Area”?

While this was the third year for Kosher World, it was the first time the show joined with the ethnic and halal markets, under the umbrella of the World Ethnic Market.

“These foods are no longer limited today to specialty suppliers or people of a particular religion or ethnicity,” said show director Phyllis Koegel. “They’re now routinely available at major food retailers, restaurants, hotels and food service operations.”

About 40 companies exhibited kosher products, ranging from wines to cheese to meat and halvah, but there also were cashews from Dan-D-Pack, a product of Vietnam; halal beef franks from Midamar, and salted lassi from Gulf & Safa Dairies of Dubai.

As usual at such shows, I sampled far too much, but what don’t you do in the name of research? My first stop was Neshama Gourmet Kosher Foods, for the best sausage I’ve ever tasted. My personal favorite is the exotic Merguez line, made from beef and lamb.

“For the first time our smoked andouille and country apple will be available kosher for Passover,” announced vice president Evelyn Baran.

I sampled salad dressing from Mistral — loved the soy ginger — and the yummiest individually wrapped Kugelettes — sure, there were Traditional Golden Raisin, but could grandma dream up Green Chile and Cheese with Salsa?

Next I visited Raphy’s booth, where samples of baba ghanoush, stuffed eggplant and a host of other delicacies, all produced in Turkey — the watermelon peel preserves are to die for — were dished up with flair.

Only fine wine could top off this “balanced meal,” so I headed for Royal Wine Corp., the world’s largest producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines. “When people hear ‘kosher’ and ‘wine’ in the same breath, they think sweet,” said Dennis Bookbinder, the company’s director of sales. “Our slogan is: ‘We produce and import premium varietal wines that happen to be kosher.’ Today you’ll find world-class kosher wines from $200 a bottle on down.”

Many of the company’s 300 wines from 12 countries regularly garner awards and top ratings from the world’s foremost wine critics and publications. And with Passover around the corner, expect a flood of new kosher wines. Petit Castel from the Judean Hills is considered the finest wine from Israel, Bookbinder said. Baron Herzog Jeunesse, as well as premium wines from Segal’s, Barkan and Carmel, are just a few he recommended to grace the seder table.

This year’s show also included the Natural Products Expo in the same building, “because people tend to associate kosher food with natural and organic,” said show director Koegel.

According to analysts, only 20 percent to 33 percent of kosher foods produced worldwide is consumed by Jews, and this is one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. So just who is buying the rest? Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus and others who follow similar dietary restrictions, for starters. With 20 percent of the population lactose intolerant and millions calling themselves vegetarians of one sort or another, plus countless others who are health conscious, it is easy to see why kosher products have wide appeal. The mad cow disease scare hasn’t hurt either; because of strict cleanliness requirements and butchering procedures, there has never been a case of the disease found in kosher beef.

So, as the motto on a banner said at the first Kosher World: “Bringing kosher to mainstream and mainstream to kosher.” Truer today than ever, I’d say.

Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 652 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” (Workman, September 2006) and can be found on the Web at

Valentine’s Day.com


“J-ated,” as in “jaded,” might be the best way to describe the ennui that has set in among many JDaters these days, singles tired of the merry-go-round of endless possibility and disappointment.

In spite of that, or because of it, new dating Web sites seem to pop up every day.

Remember that scene in the movie “Singles,” where the desperate woman asks the airline to seat her next to a single man — and she ends aside an obnoxious 10-year-old? Ostensibly that won’t happen on AirTroductions.com, which is not a Web site for mile-high clubbers (if you don’t know, I can’t explain it here). Nor is it solely for Jews. This outfit targets people who want to make business or personal connections either on the flight, at the airport, or with other travelers in the same city. If they find someone who matches your itinerary, you can pay $5 to contact that person. (It might beat hearing, “Can you take off your belt, Miss?” from the security guy….)

For more personal intervention, try the new Jretromatch.com, which uses paid matchmakers to set Jews up (that’s the retro part). The site, which launched Feb. 6, is based on the successful SawYouAtSinai.com. (Get it? All Jewish souls were originally at Mount Sinai, so it’s based on the pickup line, “Haven’t we met before? Didn’t I see you at Sinai?”) SawYouAtSinai aims for traditional and religious Jews and has a firm foothold in the Modern Orthodox market. It claims 14,000 members and 95 married success stories.

If you don’t want to leave your entire fate to the matchmaker, Jretromatch.com (and its non-Jewish counterpart, retromatch.com) also will let you peruse the database on your own. At $35.95 for a gold membership (which gets you six months plus two “free bonus months”) it’s less than JDate for the same amount of time, although with a much smaller membership (launching with 2,500 non-Orthodox culled from SawYouatSinai’s lists). Still, Jretromatch promises that matchmakers will interview all members and verify that they’re Jewish, something that JDate does not guarantee.

There are a handful of other Web sites aimed at religious and traditional Jews. The main one is Frumster.com, which skews toward the more religious of the Orthodox community (hence the word frum, which means “religious” in Yiddish), although now it has opened up to all “marriage-minded” Jews, according to Ben Rabizadeh, CEO of Frumster. The Web site claims 20,000 members and 542 couples (married or engaged) and starts at $8.95 per month, but still seems aimed most at the very religious, especially given that it requires users to specify levels of observance. You can choose between Traditional and Non-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox-Machmir, Modern Orthodox-Liberal, Yeshivish Modern, Yeshivish/Black Hat, Chasidic, Carlebachian, Shomer Mitzvot.

Other religious Web sites include UrbanTraditional.com (“putting traditional values back into Jewish dating”), Orthodate (“Your Bashert could be just a click away”) and Frumdate (“Our first priority is not simply to make a match but to help singles draw closer to Hashem and find the best within themselves”).

In addition to religiosity, there are other niches in the Jewish online dating market. Consider DarkJews.com — not a racist term, but a statement about skin tone for some Sephardic Jews — a new Web site for Syrian, Persian, Bucharian, Moroccan, Israeli, Egyptian, Yemenite, Spanish, and Turkish Jews. There’s even a category for half-Sephardic and “other,” which defies easy understanding in this context. Another category is “Come to America” where the choices are: Born, Toddler, Adolescent, Teenager, Adult or I’m Not in America.

DarkJews.com is based on the myspace.com and friendster.com models, which allows users to add their friends and their friends’ friends and is more of a social connector than a straight dating Web site. Right now it’s free, and popular among Persian Jews in California. Lumping all “dark Jews” together doesn’t work even for all dark Jews, because many of Far and Middle Eastern origin prefer to date within their own, more narrowly defined communities. Bjews.com, for example, for Bukharian Jews (from Uzbekistan and Central Asia) includes a dating site.

The most retro thing of all, though, might be to leave the computer behind. “Just let it happen naturally,” as your married friends will advise, putting aside the problem that natural meetings often mean the UPS man (or woman) delivering your Amazon.com orders and your neighbor asking you to turn your music down. Bar hopping is equally random and can lead to options with less to offer than the hardworking UPS delivery person.

If that leads you back to JDate, well, it does claim half a million members. And JDate is throwing a party at The House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard on Feb. 13.

Who knows?

 

Israel Real Estate Sales to Foreign Buyers on the Rise


Despite the vast influx of French immigrants and tourists who are buying up apartments in many parts of Israel, most notably in Netanya and Jerusalem, Americans are still in the forefront when it comes to big money properties.

There has been a tremendous growth in the foreign real estate market, according to Stuart Hershkowitz, deputy general manager and head of the international division of the Bank of Jerusalem.

“The main thrust of the Americans is on more expensive apartments,” Hershkowitz said.

Luxury market sales have shot up by 120 percent over the past 18 months, he said. “If we saw a $1 million deal once a month, we now see a $1 million deal once a week.”

Americans seeking to buy in Jerusalem prefer the neighborhoods of Talbiyeh, Rehavia, Katamon, Baka and Sha’arei Hessed, and are willing to pay up to $1million for apartments of less than 100 square meters, Hershkowitz said. Recently they have discovered Nahlaot, he added, and many people are now buying their holiday homes in this more colorful part of Jerusalem.

After the Americans, the most serious foreign buyers of real estate in Jerusalem are the British, followed by the French.

Some of the apartments are purchased as investments, Hershkowitz said, but 70 percent of buyers don’t rent out their apartments even if they come to Israel only once or twice a year. “They want their own place and they want it empty,” he said.

Hershkowitz recalled that four years ago, at the height of the intifada, few people were coming to Israel.

“Now the hotels are all full,” he said. In 2005, NIS 100 million was being spent in transactions by foreign investors per month, compared with NIS 200 million for the whole of 2000. “Whole communities are interested in buying property in Israel.”

Throughout the intifada, real estate prices either dropped or remained constant, said Hershkowitz, who envisaged that prices will now move into an upward spiral.

Former Israeli ambassador to Washington Zalman Shoval, who was one of the founders of the Bank of Jerusalem and is currently co-chairman of the First American Israel Real Estate Fund, had been to America a few days earlier in his capacity as a member of the international advisory board of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. Anyone who listens to American economists, Shoval said, might think that America is on the verge of bankruptcy. Certainly if one looked at the deficit in the U.S. balance of payments, there is room for worry, he remarked.

On the other hand, he said, there has been an impressive improvement in Israel’s economic situation. The deficit in the budget stands at NIS 2.9 billion compared to NIS 10.6 billion in the previous year; the gross domestic product per capita has expanded by 7.5 percent, and 180,000 new jobs have been made available.

In Shoval’s perception, this positive trend will continue, but could be hampered by the fact that Israel is in an election year. This could have a reverse effect on economic gains if the political leadership gives in to populist demands, he said.

 

Zagat for Dating


“Where do you want to meet?” I ask my blind date on the phone for our last-minute get-together. I find it’s best to set up these things in haste, on the fly, soon after a phone call, so expectations are kept to the barest minimum. (And yet, somehow, no matter how low hopes seem to be, disappointment always seems possible.)

“How about the Coffee Bean on Wilshire?” he says. It’s a nice place, actually, for a Coffee Bean. With a fire pit outside and the cool ocean air wafting in from the water a dozen blocks away, it’s reminiscent of a perpetual fall night with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But suddenly an image of my last date there pops into my mind. He was a very confident (read: obnoxious) Israeli, who confused our heated political debate for passion rather than loathing.

“You must like me,” the Israeli said after a time.

“Why’s that?” I wondered aloud, because I certainly did not.

“Because you’re still sitting here,” he concluded.

In his estimation, because the date had lasted longer than an hour, and I hadn’t fled like other women before me, I was smitten. So when he persisted in talking about politics despite my attempts to steer the conversation somewhere less conflicted, I considered throwing him in the fire pit next to us, but decided I’d not be able to lift his 200-pound frame. So I got up to leave.

“You said I could,” I explained over my shoulder on my way out.

So I tell my soon-to-be date, “Let’s not go to the Coffee Bean.”

When it comes to dating, much has been written about territorial acquisitions: How you should never date someone in your neighborhood because who will acquire the local hangouts after the breakup. (My last boyfriend was from the east side — way east — and when I saw him after the breakup at the Sunday Santa Monica market I wanted to shout, “Mine! This is my neighborhood! My territory! My settlement in the breakup proceedings!”)

Here in Los Angeles, our services are more important than our dates. (I learned this the hard way by dating my mechanic’s assistant — a budding screenwriter — and soon had to find a new mechanic. Not worth it.)

Maybe it sounds silly, but consider this: I am a woman who left New York City — a giant metropolis of millions of people and millions of square miles — just because it reminded me too much of my ex-boyfriend: That street in Times Square where he first surprised me and kissed me; that restaurant on 14th Street where he told me he needed some space; the green chess bench on the Lower East Side where he kissed me one last time and told me he wanted me back; that club on the Upper West Side, where, years later, after a broken engagement (his), he drunkenly confessed he still loved me; that cafe in the Village the next day where he denied it all and blamed it on the wine. In the end, it had seemed like the whole city was a backdrop — scenery created solely for our relationship — so when that was over, I fled. I just couldn’t bear it.

One of the beauties of Los Angeles is that it’s so big. (Come to think of it, I’ve almost never run into a former date here; I wonder if they were just imported here for that one evening with me…?) I don’t feel in danger of this city being ruined for me because of a relationship. But dating, that’s a different story. Do I really want to slowly but surely taint every restaurant and cafe in the city with a scene from my one-hit-wonders?

There are alternate strategies: You can inundate a place with so many dates that a particular bad one no longer stands out. Still, I can’t go to Casa Del Mar for a drink now because the ghosts of Dubious Gay Guy, Argumentative Man, This Was a Bad Idea Man and many more haunt the cavernous, beautiful room.

I’m not so cynical to say that all places are tainted by bad dates. Great dates can take a place out of the running, too: That awesome night at Canter’s where he and I stayed up till 3, 4, 5 a.m.? Who knows. I fell in love, I think, somewhere between the coleslaw and the kasha varnishkes, or maybe laughing at the ancient, bored waitress or out in the parking lot in front of a mural depicting the history of Jewish Los Angeles. I can’t go to Canter’s on a date anymore — or any of the other places I’ve left pieces of my heart — because of sweet nostalgia.

Am I too sentimental? Do I take mistake the background for the foreground? Humphrey Bogart said it best in “Casablanca:” “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine….”

But listen: a girl has got to dine out. So tonight after running through my Dating Zagat’s (Starbuck’s on Main Street, 22: Good lighting but “tedious conversationalist,” in the “nice outfit” was “mean to waitress” and “put me to sleep” despite “triple latte/no foam.”)

So I pick a sweet little cafe for writers and daters in Santa Monica with couches and cute little lamps and funny drinks like Creamsicles and Fudgesickles — in other words, a place I’d never need to go to again in case things don’t work out.

But go figure. My date is cute and he’s sweet and he’s hard to pin down into one neat little box — i.e., he’s an actual person, not just some bad date to sum up in a rating — and who knows what will happen in the future for us?

This sweet little cafe could become our place — or at least the place where we had our first date.

Oh brother, here we go again.

 

Watch Out Ladies, Dad’s Dating Again


Guess who has a new girlfriend? Well, besides me. And thanks in advance for your warm wishes. It’s the old man, actually. That’s right. Look out golden girls. Dad’s dating again.

Well, he was — until he met “the one.” Can you believe that? Six months and he’s off the market already. Now you can’t even get the guy on the horn. And when you do, his chick’s always beeping in on call-waiting.

“Tell her you’ll call back,” I plead.

Seniors today — always yapping on the phone.

Dad, or as I now refer to him, “Hef,” turns 80 this year. That just goes to show you how badly men want women in their lives. You think the urge would flame out at age 72? Please. 76? Hardly. The big 8-0 and still scoping out babes like Potsie on “Happy Days.”

A bit out of practice, yes, but give the guy some credit. Sure, he left the dating scene for a brief 52 years, but he returned stronger than ever. Scoured the online personals. Hung out at senior singles nights. Met and dated a number of women. My sisters started setting him up with prospects they came across.

I had thought about asking my female friends about their moms, but worried if things worked out a certain way, I could theoretically wind up as my own grandfather.

You’ve heard of the book, “He’s Just Not Into You”? Well, he’s really into this woman. It’s always “my girlfriend this” and “my girlfriend that.” Just like a teenager: No job. Obsessing over women. A really bad driver. I’m expecting the acne to start at any moment.

And get this — he’s asking me for advice! Me. The guy who once broke up with the same girl five times in seven months. I’m more confused than anyone.

Sure, I’ve dated a fair amount, but the over-70 age range is one even I haven’t yet ventured into. Don’t have a clue as to what those gals have on their mind. But judging from the women I do know, I’m guessing cats and jewelry wouldn’t be too far off.

Also Harry Connick Jr.

And the stories I hear. Once, he told me he met a woman who said she was 68. And guess what? That’s right — she was actually 71. Nice to see some courtship traditions last a lifetime.

Another time, I got the “why should I call her, let her call me” argument. Or “She lives too far away.” And “We don’t have anything in common.”

Now I know where I get my sunny disposition.

I’m glad he finally met someone. A nice, Jewish woman at that! She’s terrific. Pretty. Well-mannered. Early 70s. Marriage-minded, but not looking to have more children, evidently.

They’re having a great time. Even went to Disneyland the other day. The two of them flying down the Matterhorn like screaming kids. I’d suggest bumper cars, but it only promotes more bad habits behind the wheel.

Note to ABC: “The Bachelor — Senior Edition.”

Anyway, he’s happier now. That’s the great thing about finding someone — at any age. Gives you more reasons to keep going. Not that stamp collecting and watering the lawn aren’t enough. And the best part? It keeps him out of my hair.

Now I do the badgering: “How’s your girlfriend? How come I never hear from you anymore? When are you getting married? No, of course, I would never submit a story about you to a local publication read by all of your close friends and family members.”

I envy them. Seems to be a lot less pressure when you’re dating at their age. Fewer expectations and demands. They’ve been together a year and not one major fight, as far as I can tell.

Can’t wait for the bachelor party. Question: Do I hire dancers? Or their grandmothers?

I hope it lasts forever. I really don’t want to run into dad during happy hour at Hooters. At least not again.

Freelance writer Howard Leff lives in Los Angeles with one dog and two guitars. You can reach him at highway61x@gmail.com.

The Circuit


 

SHoshanim Celebrates

Shoshanim, a magazine for Jewish teenage girls, is celebrating its fifth year in publication with a newly designed Web site, new features and an upgraded layout. Based in Los Angeles, the magazine geared for Orthodox teenagers has 5,000 subscribers. It is the Bais Yaakov girl’s answer to Seventeen Magazine, with advice columns on things like good baby-sitting techniques and “Ask Rebbetzin Rochel.” Along with columns on arts and crafts, a Jewish law corner, and personality profiles of pious people, the magazine gives readers a chance to have their own short stories, poetry, and art published.

Visit Shoshanim at www.shoshanim.net (articles not available online) or call (800) 601-4238.

Don’t Stare — Just Talk

Students at Conejo Jewish Day School had a visit from the Kids on the Block, a troupe of puppets both able and disabled who teach children to appreciate differences.

This program, endorsed by the Bureau of Jewish Education, enables students to openly discuss the differences in others and the importance of caring for others and being aware of everyone’s feelings.

For more information about the Conejo Jewish Day School call Rabbi David Lamm (818) 879-8255. For information on Kids on the Block go to www.KOTB.com or call (800) 368-5437.

New News for New Jew

You may be hearing a lot more from the New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) soon. The West Hills school, which was founded three years ago, was recently awarded an Avi Chai marketing grant for recruitment and publicity.

“New Jewish high schools often begin very small, without the necessary funding to successfully market themselves,” said Lauren Merken, a member of Avi Chai’s board of trustees. “It is the foundation’s goal to help schools like New Community Jewish High School, reach out to the community effectively.”

Of course, recruitment doesn’t seem to be a weak point at New Jew: It opened in 2002 with 40 kids in the ninth grade. Next year, as it welcomes its first 12th-grade class, NCJHS expects a total enrollment of 250 students.

For more information on NCJHS, call (818) 348-0048 or visit www.ncjhs.org.

Change the World

Seven students took home $500 prizes in Chapman University and the “1939” Club’s sixth annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest in March. Students from 75 schools submitted essays, poetry and art on the topic of “To Change Our World: Legacy of Liberation,” which invited students to tie the history of the Holocaust to a current situation of injustice. The first-prize winners in the middle school categories were Art: Monique Becker, Lakeside Middle School (Irvine); Essay: Gabriella Duva, St. Anne School (Laguna Niguel), and Poetry: Kim Ngai, Fulton Middle School (Fountain Valley).

In the high school category, two entries tied for first place in Art: Steven Vander Sluis, El Toro High School (Lake Forest) and Marisa Moonilal, Mater Dei (Santa Ana); Essay: Irina Dykhne, University High School (Los Angeles), and Poetry: Matthew Adam White, University High School (Los Angeles).

For more information on the contest or Chapman University in Orange, call (714) 997-6620.

And More Winners

After a rigorous application process, four Californians are among the 26 youths from across the country selected to participate in the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel this summer. Rachel Cohen of Goleta, Alexander Kaplan of Pacific Palisades, Alex Schatzberg of San Rafael and Juliana Spector of Piedmont will spend five weeks traveling throughout Israel to participate in seminars and dialogues with diverse rabbis and leaders. They will also spend a week with Israeli peers who are part of a parallel program for Israelis. The program was founded by Edgar M. Bronfman and is funded by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation.

For more information, call (518) 475-7202 or visit www.bronfman.org.

Open Your Home

If international cooperation and understanding is best achieved through personal ties, then imagine having someone from a foreign country live in your home. AFS Intercultural Programs and Pacific Intercultural Exchange are looking for families in the L.A. area to host high school students who are studying in America for a year or a semester.

For more information contact AFS Intercultural Programs (formerly American Filed Service) at (800) 237-4630 or www.afs.org/usa; or Pacific Intercultural Exchange at (800) 631-1818.

 

Let My People Merlot


 

In the beginning, there was sweet wine. Really, really sweet wine.

But as the kosher market broadened, a trickle of new wines targeted to a more sophisticated audience began to raise expectations among Jewish wine lovers.

Now kosher wines have entered a third era, in which many are not only passable, they’re praiseworthy. Though winemakers in Israel and the United States still grow the largest numbers of these wines, vineyards all over the globe — from Australia to South Africa to Chile — are joining in, giving Jewish consumers an array of choices to accompany their charoset and brisket.

Passover is the kosher industry’s peak season; virtually all kosher wines are kosher for Passover. In North America, perhaps 50 percent of annual kosher wine sales are made during the holiday or in the weeks that precede it. This percentage is falling, though, as kosher wines gain more year-round acceptance.

The kosher food market is growing by perhaps 15 percent a year, said Menachem Lubinsky, the editor of koshertoday.com and president and CEO of Lubicom, a marketing consulting firm that focuses on kosher brands. He estimates that sales of kosher wines in the United States will reach roughly $160 million in 2005, up from $130 million just two years ago.

Lubinsky said that the number of kosher wines on the North American market is in the thousands, so everyone preparing a seder has plenty of strong choices at a variety of prices.

To make sense of this welter of wines, JTA’s editorial team took upon itself the task of taste-testing 20 kosher wines and picking out some winners. The wines we tested were provided by Royal Wines, one of the world’s largest producers, importers and distributors of kosher wines.

Wines we reviewed that are mevushal, an additional koshering step that involves flash-pasteurizing, are indicated with an “M” next to the price. (To make the testing more fair, we did not know how much each wine cost when we tasted it.)

According to Herzog Wine Cellars winemaker Joe Hurliman, the process changes the way fruit in the wine tastes. Indeed, a handful of nonkosher wineries have begun to flash-pasteurize their wines to capture this distinctive taste.

To best simulate the actual seder experience, our testers ate only Tam Tam matzah crackers for palate cleansing.

Our overall favorites were a pair of inexpensive moscatos that would be excellent choices to accompany desserts, or perhaps spicy foods. Italy’s Bartenura Moscato ($11, M) and Moscato di Carmel ($9) received equally high scores from our reviewers for their light, sweet, extremely fruity flavors. Of the Carmel moscato, one taster wrote, “Smells like honeysuckle, tastes like a party.”

Segal’s Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) is from Israel. This deep red wine is vivid, rich and slightly tart, with an alluringly earthy aroma; it had the most uniformly high scores of any wine in our testing.

Spain is a less traditional kosher wine producer — Spain has less than 40,000 Jews — but the Ramon Cardova Rioja, a Spanish tempranillo ($13), is a terrific dry red, offering a sharp berry taste with hints of vanilla and a potent fruity aroma. It ranks high on our list of best buys.

According to JTA’s testers, several other red wines also deserve a look: The Carmel Appellation Bordeaux Blend Limited Edition ($40) is an Israeli blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, dark and thick with a spicy aroma and a smooth taste that has notes of both sweetness and tartness. Another nice blend is the Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet/Zinfandel/Syrah ($35), a brand-new California wine from Herzog. It was a bit thinner than many of the reds we tasted, but we appreciated its smoothness, layers of fruit and less acidic finish.

A few of the white wines we tasted stood out. Aside from the dessert wines, the tasters were most impressed by the Francois Labet Puligny Montrachet, a French chardonnay ($55) that is vivid and a bit acidic, with a pleasant lingering finish. Also from France, which is the third largest producer of kosher wine in the world, is the Verbau Gewurztraminer ($15, M), a sweet, fruity wine with a mildness that makes it more versatile than the moscatos.

Of the kosher champagnes we tested, the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut from France ($47) drew the most praise. It has a tempting aroma, earthy taste and crisp aftertaste, though some testers felt it was too heavy.

Our testers intended to include a traditional sweet concord wine in our sampling, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to open it after tasting all these elegant wines. However, concords continue to be strong sellers year after year and cost $5 or less, so perhaps there is a place for one at your table.

Listed prices are approximate retail prices. The less expensive wines — $15 and under — often can be found at retailers for a dollar or two less during the days before Passover.

The Best of the Bottles

Though it would be impossible to sample even 10 percent of the thousands of kosher-for-Passover wines on the market there are a number of solid choices we can recommend from the group of wines we sampled with Jay Buchsbaum of Royal Wine, who holds free tastings with many Jewish groups throughout the year.

Mevushal wines are indicated with an ‘M’ next to the approximate retail prices.

Best Values

Bartenura Moscato (Italy, $11, M)
Moscato di Carmel (Israel, $9)
Ramon Cardova Rioja (Spain, $13)
Verbau Gewurztraminer (France, $15, M)
Baron Herzog Zinfandel (U.S., $13, M)

Best reds

Segal’s Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon (Israel, $60)
Ramon Cardova Rioja (Spain, $13)
Carmel Appellation Bordeaux Blend Limited Edition (Israel, $40)
Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet/Zinfandel/Syrah (U.S., $35)
Chateau Leoville Poyferre (France, $85)

Best whites (nondessert)

Francois Labet Puligny Montrachet (France, $55)
Verbau Gewurztraminer (France, $15, M)
Binyamina Special Reserve Chardonnay (Israel, $15)

Best for dessert

Bartenura Moscato (Italy, $11, M)
Moscato di Carmel (Israel, $9)

Best champagne

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut (France, $47)

 

Latin America Aims for Northern Palates


 

Guarding the entrance to Bodegas Barberis, a family-owned winery in western Argentina, is a small ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary, known locally as the Virgen de la Carrodilla.

“She’s our local patron saint and protector of the vineyards,” said Adrian Barberis, who with his three brothers owns the prosperous winery.

The virgin hardly would cause an eyebrow to be raised in this devoutly Catholic country — except for the fact that Bodegas Barberis, 15 miles south of the city of Mendoza, is a leading Argentine exporter of kosher wine.

Each year, the churchgoing Barberis family turns over 20 percent of its 100-hectare winery to a team of Chasidic Jews from Buenos Aires. For several months before Passover, Chasidim supervise every aspect of wine production — from _fermentation to bottle-sealing — to ensure that the laws of kashrut are observed to the letter.

By now, the winery’s 15 employees are used to seeing the half-dozen bearded men running around checking cooling tanks, tasting samples from wine vats and operating forklifts on the loading docks.

That’s not all. Honoring a Jewish tradition known as terumot vema’aserot, Barberis must intentionally spill on the ground or give to charity 10 percent of its annual kosher wine production. Other talmudic laws prohibit Barberis from using fruit produced during the first three years of a grape harvest, require all wine to be flash-pasteurized before bottling and demand that the land be allowed to rest every seventh year.

“We are allowed to cultivate the grapes and bring them to the bodega in plastic bins,” Barberis said. “We leave them in the truck, and the rabbis and their employees unload them and do the whole process in a special sector of the bodega. The only thing our oenologist does is explain to the rabbis and their people how to use specific machinery.”

Barberis said his biggest market is the United States, where an estimated one-fifth of Jews regularly drink kosher wine, mainly at weddings, circumcisions, bar mitzvahs, funerals and at their Shabbat tables.

The peak season for kosher wine is right before Passover, when hundreds of thousands of American Jewish families stock up.

“It all depends on production schedules,” said Barberis, who is familiar with basic kashrut terminology. “The Orthodox Jews don’t work on Pesach, so if Pesach coincides with fermentation and the grapes are mature, we can’t use our grapes, meaning we have to buy grapes from other wineries.”

This year, Barberis expects to sell $300,000 worth of kosher wine to Royal Wine Corp., an importer based in Bayonne, N.J.

Other wineries in both Argentina and Chile — a six-hour drive over the Andes Mountains from Mendoza — also are turning to the relatively small but lucrative kosher market to supplement exports in the face of weak internal demand.

That’s resulted in the appearance on U.S. supermarket shelves of relatively inexpensive brands such as Chile’s Layla Cabernet Sauvignon and Argentina’s Byblos Bonarda, both imported by Abarbanel Wine Co. of Cedarhurst, N.Y., as well as Chile’s Alfasi Merlot, imported by Royal Wine Corp.

“Currently, Argentina is exporting more than 50 percent of its total production. Some bodegas export up to 90 percent,” says Enrique Chrabolowsky, a Jewish wine critic based in Mendoza.

Chrabolowsky, who with co-author Michel Rolland, has just published a coffee table book, “Wines of Argentina,” said that last year, Chile exported a record $900 million worth of wine — mainly to Europe and North America — while Argentina exported $300 million. Both neighbors are taking advantage of the fact that they offer relatively cheap land, phylloxera-free soil, high productivity and low wages compared with more established wine-producing countries, such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Even so, less than 5 percent of the kosher wine bought in the United States comes from South America. That’s mainly because the cheaper sugary-sweet Concord varieties produced by Mogen David and Manischewitz in upstate New York still dominate 40 percent of the U.S. kosher market, and Israel also commands a healthy share.

In fact, a search for “Chile” at www.kosherwine.com, a Chicago-based online retailer, turns up 13 labels, while a search for “Argentina” brings up only six labels. Both countries pale in comparison with Israel, with 152 kosher wine brands on the market.

“Argentina never paid attention to exports, because almost all of its production went for the internal market,” Barberis said. “Then internal consumption began declining, which obligated us to export our products. We started later than Chile, which never had a big internal market and has been exporting since the beginning. But Argentina can grow rapidly and has big potential.”

According to Chrabolowsky, a Jewish entrepreneur named Samuel Flichman pioneered Argentine quality wines, though there are few Jews still in the industry. Probably the largest Jewish vintner in Mendoza today is Pedro Marchevsky; his wine is called Ben Marco and has a menorah on the label, but it’s not kosher.

Barberis, on the other hand, produces three varieties of kosher wine for export to the United States: Valero Syrah, Valero Malbec and Valero Tempranillo.

The Syrah, boasts the label, “is produced using carefully selected grapes harvested in Argentina’s world-famous Mendoza winemaking region. The wine displays a deep ruby red color with a bouquet of dark berries and licorice. The wine’s flavor is reminiscent of plums and raspberries.”

The winery also produces Tekiah Syrah and Tekiah Tempranillo for the local Argentine Jewish market, as well as for export to Panama.

As a Catholic, Barberis cannot serve Valero to Orthodox Jews because it is not mevushal, or flash-pasteurized. Tekiah, on the other hand, is mevushal.

But doesn’t heating the wine even for a fraction of a second destroy the flavor?

“Theoretically, yes,” Barberis replied. “But it must be good, because the Wine Enthusiast magazine has given Tekiah Syrah a score of 84 points.”

 

Blintzes, Cupcakes and Pasta — Oh My!


 

Back in the day, Passover meant meat, matzah and potatoes for eight days of the Passover. But in the last decade, the market for special kosher for Passover food has exploded, and manufacturers and supermarkets are providing a variety of products to almost make you forget it’s even Passover. (Unless otherwise stated, all products listed have been certified by the Orthodox Union [OU].)

The Pasta/Pizza Craving

Many people like to at least simulate foods that contain chametz (leavened goods that contain either wheat, oats, barley, rye or spelt), even if they’re not allowed to eat the real thing on Passover. So for those with a hankering for noodles, Passover noodles made from matzah-meal cake are available from Kedem with the Savion label, while Gefen and Flaum Appetizing also have noodles, but made from potato starch.

Frankel’s has produced frozen potato starch noodles but has also branched out this year with a whole array of kosher for Passover frozen foods including blintzes, waffles and the all-important pizza.

Also selling frozen pizza for the first time this year is Maccabee Pizza, whose product is made from potato starch. Dayenu is also jumping on the frozen food bandwagon with pierogies, pizza ravioli and pizzaroggies made with matzah meal.

In the blintz department, Kineret blintzes made from potato starch will be available, and King Kold of Chicago will be selling blintzes, matzah balls and potato pancakes under the Ratner’s label. All are matzah-meal based. In addition, King Kold has also introduced frozen potato kugel batter, potato pancake batter and matzah ball batter. And Dr. Praeger’s is producing both frozen potato and vegetable pancakes.

Matzah, Matzah, Matzah

While the standard Manischewitz matzah has always been available, the Orthodox Union (OU) this year has certified Aviv, Osem, Yehuda and Rishon matzahs from Israel as long as the OU-P symbol appears on them. Yanovsky matzah, which is baked in Argentina, is also being made available this year.

In addition to its traditional egg matzah, Manischewitz will also make available matzah ashira made from flour and grape juice — for those Ashkenazim who are not permitted to eat regular matzah, and for Sephardim who are allowed to eat kitniyot (legumes).

New on the shmura matzah list (handmade matzah) are those from Gefen, Rokeach and Mishpacha.

Kedem is introducing a new matzah product called Matzah Sticks under the Savion label.

And because Passover begins this year when Shabbat ends, for the first timeHadar manufacturers will be producing an egg matzah under the Star-K label, so that people will be able to eat them with their Shabbat meal, as challah will not be able to be eaten.

For the Munchies

Savion is introducing cupcakes and cookies made with matzah meal. VIP will have macaroons and cookies available as bulk items that contain no matzah meal. Manischewitz is introducing a new sugar-free biscotti and sugar-free macaroons, as well as sugar-free cookies made from matzah meal. Mishpacha is introducing macaroons and kichel made without matzah meal. And Yehuda Passover marble cake, honey cake and chocolate cake made from potato starch will be available from Israel with an OU-P. Gefen will have a line of cake mixes all made without matzah meal. Similarly, the Le Tova OU-P line of baking mixes made from potato starch will be available. Savion will be selling cake mixes and muffin mixes made with matzah meal. And this year Manischewitz is expanding its potato chip line to potato sticks and sweet potato chips.

Dairy Cravings

This year the OU-P will appear on various Cholov Yisroel dairy products. These include milk from Ahava with the Best Moo label as well as yogurt from Ahava with the Slim U label. A new OU company, Dairy Delight, will be selling sour cream and yogurt under the Norman’s label. In addition, Norman’s will also sell Cholov Yisroel ready to eat puddings with the OU-P label. Cholov Yisroel OU-P hard cheese will appear for the first time this year under both the Norman’s label and the Kirkeby label. The Kirkeby cheeses are imported from Europe and also carry the London Beth Din hechsher.

Something Fishy

Manischewitz’s Season line has introduced a number of new sardine items in various sauces for Pesach. Bumble Bee has made a large OU-P production of tuna under its own label. Aside from this, tuna is available with an OU-P from Rokeach, Gefen and Mishpacha. And Dr. Praeger’s has breaded fish fillets and fish sticks made without matzah meal.

The Real Thing

Coca-Cola will again be available with an OU-P for Pesach. Look for the distinctive yellow cap in addition to the OU-P symbol to ensure that the regular corn syrup has been replaced with sugar. The secret Coke recipe, however, has still not been disclosed.

 

Ex-Communist ‘Burb Makes Menorahs


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pico’s Familiar Slice


The balabus is back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Solemn Day in Santa Monica


Santa Monicans call it "the accident." Upon further reflection, some residents also concede that while this word is accurate, it does not capture the enormity of what happened on July 16, 2003. That day, an 86-year-old man’s foot pressed down on the accelerator of his 1992 Buick, sending the large car crashing through the Santa Monica Farmers Market at 60 mph killing 10 people, injuring dozens and shattering a communal calm.

The Santa Monica farmers market tragedy shocked the politcally conscious city where the homeless crowd and the Humvee set maintain a reasonable peace.

Twelve months later, there is a life-goes-on feel to the Farmers Market on Arizona Avenue near the Third Street Promenade. On Saturday of the July 4 weekend, farmers market business was solid with tourists, young couples with small children, some aging hippies, plus two clusters of 20-somethings seeking audiences to test-market movie screenings and environmentalists pigeonholing people to sign a Ballona Wetlands petition.

"We made a conscious effort after the accident to carry on with the market," said Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, a lawyer whose office staff includes a woman who was walking through the market at 1:47 p.m., when the Buick careened down Arizona.

The Santa Monica Bay Interfaith Council will hold a one-year memorial service on July 14.

The tragedy also has spawned extensive civil litigation against Santa Monica. A California Highway Patrol team of crash investigators has written a 914-page report on the accident. However, its public release has been blocked by a judge concerned about pretrial publicity for the October criminal trial against the Buick’s driver, George Russell Weller, who has stated that he mistakenly thought the accelerator was the brake.

Santa Monica has seven Jewish congregations. At the Reform Beth Shir Shalom, where Bloom worships, cantorial soloist David Shukiar believes that the crash has prompted deeper reflection among himself and his congregants.

"It’s changed how I look at things in the world," he said. "I had a similar feeling, on a much larger scale, with Sept. 11. I hug my daughter tighter now."

At the Wednesday farmers market, Izzy Levitansky runs the Chabad of Montana outreach table with free candles, phylacteries and cards. Last year, he made it across the street to safety as the Buick hit his table. At Shabbat services two days after the crash, he was joyous that God had saved his life.

"There were people on the windshield and the Buick was trucking through and I said, ‘I’m outta here,’" Levitansky said as he stood at Arizona Avenue, pointing to the center of the intersection where he was standing. "He hit the table."

And after watching those 10 to 15 seconds of horror, he said, "You wake up the next morning and say, ‘I got no problems. I can breathe.’"

Farmers market manager Mort Bernstein also is not interested in assigning blame. "People come up and talk about it and try to assign blame because it’s something that’s hard to comprehend," said Bernstein, sitting under a tent amid the market’s stalls. "Blame the city. Blame the lack of barricades. If they can assign blame, they can compartmentalize it."

The tragedy’s oldest victim was Movsha Hoffman, a 78-year-old Jewish immigrant from Lithuania. His wife, Esther, survived but was seriously injured. Months after the accident, her son moved her out of the apartment where his parents would reminisce about Soviet socialism with their landlord.

Since Esther moved "I haven’t heard a word from her," said landlord Jay Johnson, who is also a city planning commissioner.

After the tragedy, Johnson spoke about possible safety improvements like wider medians on Wilshire Boulevard and more aid for senior citizen drivers like Weller. A year later, such altruistic notions appear to have been the coping mechanisms that Johnson knew they were even as he spoke of them. There are now barriers on both sides of the farmers market’s Arizona Avenue entrances, but Santa Monica officials have not radically altered their relations with the 20 percent of the city’s population composed of senior citizens.

At Sinai Temple in Westwood, Rabbi David Wolpe draws strength from Shamsi Khani, a Persian American in her late 80s who endured the speeding Buick breaking her neck in three places and breaking both her legs.

"They did not hold any chance for her to survive when I saw her the first time in the hospital," Wolpe said. "In fact, she survives and comes to synagogue on Shabbat. Although there are many tragedies, we also have to be grateful for any small miracles we can wrest from this calamity."

Plan Seeks to Cure High Cost of Drugs


In this presidential campaign year, the figure is ubiquitous: One out of four Americans, about 70 million people, do not have health insurance. At the same time, Americans are spending about $100 billion on prescription drugs annually, more than double what was spent in 1990.

For the uninsured, that money comes from either government assistance programs or their own pockets. Los Angeles residents, however, may soon be the beneficiaries of a plan to help close the gap.

Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa has unveiled a proposal called, LA-Rx, that would enable the city to make medications cheaper for residents. The plan calls for a city contractor to purchase drugs at bulk rates from pharmaceutical companies and, in turn, sell them to residents at below retail cost.

Although estimates vary about the exact rate of rise in drug costs, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a serious problem.

"There is no question that prescription drug costs which consumers are paying are escalating and continue to escalate," said Rabbi Hershy Ten, president of Bikur Cholim, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to health care for the residents of greater Los Angeles.

Concerned with the implications of prescription drug costs for both the Jewish community and the city at large, Ten met with Villaraigosa and his staff to discuss LA-Rx.

The root causes of the issue are economic. Pharmaceutical manufacturers, who have fought court battles with several state governments over health-care costs, claim that they are simply seeking equitable compensation for their risks: Only a very small percentage of drug research ever culminates in a product reaching the market.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), an organization that represents more than 100 major U.S. drug companies, also claims that the vast majority of the increase in public spending on prescription drugs is due to the increasing popularity and effectiveness of those drugs, rather than rising costs.

"Some look at the increasing use of medicines and the shift to newer medicines as problems to be solved, not solutions for patients and contributions to affordable health care," said Alan F. Holmer, PhRMA president, in a speech to his colleagues last year.

However, many local governments, health-care providers and ordinary citizens are contesting PhRMA’s position, especially since drug manufacturers expend large sums to advertise their medications.

"In health-care literature, there’s speculation about the dollars spent on marketing vs. true research and development," said Rita Shane, director of pharmacy services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "I monitor [in-patient expenses] on an ongoing basis and deal with the exceedingly high cost of new breakthrough therapies for treatment of patients with severe chronic diseases."

It’s also widely recognized that the pharmaceutical industry enjoys large profit margins, recorded as five and a half times the median of all the industries represented in the Fortune 500 in 2002.

Villaraigosa’s proposal could possibly be the next step in the ongoing battle to reduce drug costs. Several states, including California, Maine and Oregon have already taken advantage of their existing buying power in a variety of ways to coax lower prices from drug makers.

"Many states are responsible for actual delivery of health care to their employees, retirees and Medicaid recipients, [and] they have been pooling their buying power together to negotiate better prices," said Joe Ramallo, Villaraigosa’s communications director.

"No one has yet taken it to the next level, which is what Councilmember Villaraigosa is proposing to do, and use that ability to bulk purchase on behalf of residents as a whole," Ramallo said. "This has been a growing issue of concern to seniors and those who are uninsured."

LA-Rx emerged from a series of town hall meetings on health-care policy sponsored by the Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights.

The system would work by first enrolling interested Los Angeles residents and establishing the size of the medication buyers pool. Next, the city would contract with an organization called a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), which would do the negotiating with drug manufacturers.

An open enrollment period would give residents an opportunity to join LA-Rx annually. LA-Rx members would pay an annual fee for administration of the program.

Drug companies, however, would not be forced or coerced to negotiate with the city’s PBM.

"It’s just using market forces, and our understanding is that there are no legal barriers to doing this," Ramallo said. "Drug manufacturers would be foolish not to negotiate if [there is] a pool of 100,000 purchasers, 200,000 purchasers or more. Those are business decisions, and if you don’t do it, your competitor will."

The Jewish community, especially the often-ignored segment of poor, near-poor and elderly Jews in Los Angeles, would stand to benefit from a proposal to cut their drug costs.

The Freda Mohr Center, part of Jewish Family Service, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding a mostly elderly population with health-care issues.

"We see people who [are taking] upwards of 15 to 20 medications," said Nikki Cavalier, center director. "We get a lot of requests for various types of financial assistance … and some of it we can help them with and some of it we can’t."

Cavalier estimated that approximately 80 percent of the center’s clients are Jewish.

Speaking of the prevalence of individuals who cannot afford their medications, Elaine Kau, a center case manager, reported, "I see it on a day-to-day basis. Especially with certain HMOs raising their co-payments and not covering brand-name medications and only covering generics."

"When someone does not take medication that is prescribed by the physician, they are compromising their health," said Ten of Bikur Cholim. "Part of the fiber of the Jewish community is that every life is worth living. That is paramount."

Raising the issue of possible LA-Rx problems, Shane of Cedars-Sinai said, "My concern [is whether] the people administering this benefit [would] end up profiting. Yes, maybe there would be some savings, but it would be hard to know how much of the savings will actually be passed on to the patients."

She added that a local organization might find its work exceedingly difficult "because on a national basis, it is challenging to get [wholesale] pricing on brand-name drugs."

Without accurate nonretail pricing, it would be impossible to know how much money a PBM is saving consumers.

"So my question is," Shane said, "how much additional dollars would be left to the third-party administrator? The purchasing structure of LA-Rx would have to be transparent."

Villaraigosa’s office, however, focused on LA-Rx’s propriety.

"There have been suggestions to regulate PBMs to ensure that they are negotiating on behalf of the pool that they are representing, rather than keeping an unacceptably high level of profit" Ramallo said. "We would go to great lengths to ensure that [PBMs are held accountable]."

One way to do that, according to Ramallo, is to form a nonprofit PBM. "That way there’s no advantage whatsoever for the PBM not to negotiate the best rates for its clients," he said. Under Villaraigosa’s plan, a PBM would be selected through a competitive process that would weigh the benefits of for-profit vs. nonprofit administration.

And although it could conceivably help Los Angeles residents, LA-Rx would inevitably face comparison with the Medicare prescription drug benefit approved by Congress for elderly Americans. Beginning in June, Medicare beneficiaries will have access to Medicare-endorsed drug discount cards and in 2006 full benefits become available.

On the surface, LA-Rx appears simpler and more straightforward than the Medicare drug benefit plan.

"There is a doughnut hole in terms of what people are going to get…. People who are on multiple medications are going to exhaust the benefit very easily, and there is a deductible and monthly premium," Shane said of the Medicare drug plan.

She also pointed out the difficulty seniors will have in understanding their complicated, tiered system of benefits under Medicare.

Cavalier echoed Shane’s concerns about both the Medicare plan and LA-Rx when it comes to the elderly.

"I’d be concerned about the complexity, how people are going to find out about it, how people are going to apply for it … [consumers] already seem to be somewhat confused and uncertain, and they come to us and ask us to help," Cavalier said. "We spend a lot time interpreting and helping them apply for the programs that are out there."

To increase awareness and understanding of the LA-Rx plan, it is currently being circulated within various communities. It may soon be put before the City Council.

"[Consumers of medication] right now have no one to speak for them," Ramallo said. "In this program, they will by pooling together and having a single entity negotiate on their behalf."

"This [proposal] will directly impact the Jewish community, as well as every resident in the city of Los Angeles, [and it] is a process that we want to participate in," Ten said. "This is an issue that crosses all boundaries and borders. If there’s any single unifying factor, it’s the health care of our families."

Israel Growing as Arms Dealer


To every black cloud, they say, there is a silver lining. Under constant threat from terrorists and hostile neighbors, Israel has become an expert in security — and that expertise is generating huge profits.

Israel has been one of the world’s big arms sellers for more than a decade, yet it really joined the major leagues this week when the government approved the $1.1 billion sale of the Phalcon command-and-control radar system to India.

Israel’s annual sales of weaponry worldwide total about $30 billion. Figures released by the Defense Ministry during the Phalcon presentation to the Cabinet on Sunday show that with about 10 percent to 14 percent of the world market, Israel is the fifth-largest exporter of weapons systems after the United States, the European Union, Russia and Japan.

Aside from the moral issues raised by arms sales, there are some practical problems of realpolitik.

For one, the sales sometimes bring Israel into direct conflict with its closest ally, the United States, which has its own geopolitical interests — as well as a domestic arms industry that it wants to protect from competition.

For another, selling Israeli know-how to other countries means some of it could wind up in enemy hands, neutralizing key advantages Israel might need in a future battlefield.

On Sunday, the government gave the go-ahead for what will be Israel’s single biggest export deal to date: the sale of three Phalcon airborne early-warning systems to India for $1.1 billion.

Though the Phalcon does not have any American components and was developed entirely by Israel, the Israelis sought and received American permission for the sale last August.

That followed Israel’s embarrassing cancellation of a similar deal with China in July 2000 after strenuous American objections. Washington argued then that giving the Chinese such sophisticated systems could make things far more difficult for the United States in any future air battle with mainland China over Taiwan.

Israeli officials claimed that the American objection had more to do with a desire to keep Israel out of the competition for lucrative early-warning system contracts.

The Americans only approved the India deal after they were convinced that it would not destabilize relations between India and Pakistan.

In 2003, Israel signed contracts for weapons sales amounting to $3 billion. The target this year is more than $4 billion.

Israel leads the world in a number of systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, small spotter planes that fly over territory and send back data on troop and other movements; a sophisticated system for analyzing air battles, and electronic systems for fighter planes.

A partial list of current sales gives an idea of the scope of the Israeli operation. Israel sells UAVs to South Korea; the Phalcon, electronics, a sophisticated radar system, UAVs and missiles to India; anti-tank missiles to Poland; UAVs to Finland, Belgium, France and Switzerland; the system for analyzing air battles to Finland and Holland; a system for pinpointing fighter plane targets to Spain and Greece; and night-vision systems to Denmark.

Israel has upgraded tanks and fighter planes for Turkey; has sold naval systems to Australia; and has sold armor for personnel carriers, UAVs, fighter-pilot sights and the system for pinpointing fighter plane targets to the United States.

Paradoxically, Israel’s big advantage over other countries is its dire security situation, which turns the country into a laboratory for arms development. Israel has to keep developing new weapons to survive. Often, because of the conflict with the Palestinians, the systems are tested and proven in battle conditions.

Some critics question the morality of such sales, saying they hardly fulfill the vision that Theodor Herzl, the father of the Zionist movement, would have hoped for — though he probably also wouldn’t have expected to find Israel still under existential threat 55 years after its founding.

Spokesmen for Israel’s military industry often justify the sales by arguing that if Israel didn’t provide weapons to various countries, someone else would.

Moreover, they say, arms sales are not necessarily immoral; they sometimes can prevent wars by deterring would-be aggressors.

The Israeli sales, however, sometimes lead to strained relations with the United States. In addition to the tension over the Chinese Phalcon sale, there have been other cases of the United States stifling Israeli initiatives: Washington put pressure on Britain not to buy Israeli "Spike" anti-tank missiles and to purchase American "Javelin" missiles instead.

The United States also forced Israel to accept American-made radar in the state-of-the-art, F-16I fighter bombers Israel recently received from the United States — rather than the Israeli Elta system that Israeli officials consider to be better.

Israeli officials recognize that the more weapons they sell, the greater the risk that Israeli systems could fall into Arab hands. If that happened, the systems could be dismantled and analyzed, and crucial battlefield advantages could be nullified.

Officials already fear that some military technology they shared with the United States has reached the Egyptian army, which is supplied by the United States — and such snafus could happen on a wider scale if Israel sells weapons to less trustworthy clients.

Israel could increase its already large share of the world weapons market if projected sales of the Arrow anti-missile system are allowed to go ahead.

India is one of several countries that has expressed interest. The United States, which funded much of the Arrow’s development, so far has blocked any sale, arguing that the Arrow could destabilize India-Pakistan relations by tilting the balance of power too strongly in India’s favor.

Some U.S. Congressmen have suggested that the United States deploy the Arrow until its own anti-missile defense system is operational, but so far Washington has not shown any interest in buying Arrows from Israel.

Israeli officials say Israel gladly would forego the billions of dollars it earns in arms sales if peace with the Arabs could be achieved and military development could be de-emphasized.

Until that happens, however, the byproduct of Israel’s own defense needs is likely to be a thriving defense industry, conducting an ever-growing export trade.

A Sweet Dream Come True


The tip jar at CremaLita in Santa Monica reads, “Make Me Fat,” which is the opposite of why patrons frequent this new, kosher fat-free ice cream chain in Los Angeles.

The trendy, Manhattan-based company dishes out more than 60 flavors — including peppermint and espresso — averaging 60 calories per four-fluid-ounce serving. Its three Los Angeles stores are part of a low-fat craze that has infiltrated the kosher market, with retailers reporting “dramatic” interest in not-so-naughty desserts, such as Colombo Chocolate Sorbet, according to Kosher Today. In Los Angeles, Baskin-Robbins and other franchises offer kosher low-fat fare, although CremaLita is perhaps the only chain in which the stores, as well as the product, are kosher certified, said Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz of the Kosher Information Bureau.

As for why Jeffrey Britz founded CremaLita with his daughter, Allison, in 2001: “We’re weight lunatics,” he said. The 58-year-old entrepreneur — who rises at 4 a.m. to exercise most days — had sold his physical-therapy business when his thoughts turned to ice cream in January 2001. For years, he’d trekked to a soft-serve joint twice a week to pick up quarts of low-fat dessert. As that brand became a staple for chic Manhattan dieters, he analyzed the competition, opened his first store and soon drew a following. The cast and crew of “Sex and the City” bought 100 cones one afternoon; Us magazine ran a cartoon of that show’s Kristin Davis enjoying CremaLita; and 2001 Miss USA Kandace Kreuger called the brand her “secret weakness.”

But a recent New York Times story suggested the snack might not be entirely guilt free. The article alleged that samples of CremaLita and another brand had more calories than advertised, partly because of oversized servings and insufficient air beaten into the product. The piece referenced that “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry and Elaine gain weight after pigging out on “diet” fro-yo.

In response, Britz said signs in his stores warn that size matters, but customers don’t seem to care.

“If we serve a strict four ounces, they feel cheated,” he said.

Besides, a big cup of CremaLita is still more virtuous than Häagen-Dazs: “At least it’s a large portion of something that’s low calorie and low fat,” Allison Britz said.

CremaLita stores are located in Santa Monica, WestHollywood and Sherman Oaks. For addresses and information, visit www.cremalita.com .

Where the End Justifies the Beans


Businessman Allen Gochnour is a regular at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on La Cienega Boulevard, and like many of the people who wait in the line that often stretches out the door, he’s not just there to grab a cup of java and run. Instead, the transplanted Pittsburgher hangs out to kibitz with the people behind the counter, who affectionately call him "customer of the year," answer the trivia question of the day and sip his Ultimate Ice Blended — a blended frozen slush of sweet milky coffee, before he continues with his day.

"This is what the world was intended for," said Gochnour, as he licks the whipped cream off his drink. "Kosher food, kosher coffee, a great place to sit down — Pittsburgh doesn’t have anything like this."

In fact, few cities do. In the battle of the bean, where chain stores like Starbucks and Peets compete to serve the strongest espressos and the frothiest cappuccinos to the hoards of caffeine addicts, Coffee Bean has distinguished itself — for the Jewish community at least — by its commitment to kashrut. Every drink, muffin, salad or sandwich is kosher.

Now, Coffee Bean is taking its relationship with the Jewish community one step further. In keeping with the company’s credo of opening community-friendly stores, the newest Coffee Bean store, in the heart of the Fairfax district, will be closed on Shabbat and will serve chalav yisrael milk (milk that has been supervised by a Jew) and pastries, to appeal to the ultra-Orthodox segment of the community.

Herbert Hyman opened the first Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Brentwood in 1963, which sold — coffee beans and tea leaves. Later on, as customers became more interested in the products, Hyman set up a beverage-sampling bar, and later on started serving a full line of beverages.

Hyman started opening more stores, and in the 1980s there were about eight Coffee Bean stores in Los Angeles. But it wasn’t until one Coffee Bean employee threw some coffee and ice into a blender in the mid 1980s that the store really started to become popular.

"That drink was responsible for the worldwide frappe craze," said Melvin Elias, Coffee Bean’s COO. "That is when the growth machine started. The Ice Blendeds became very popular and it made the [store] units profitable. It was an innovative drink, and it took a long time for an established player like Starbucks to realize that we were onto something."

By the late 1990s, there were 60 Coffee Bean stores, and Hyman sold the business to Debbie and Sonny Sassoon — Los Angeles-based Orthodox Jews. The Sassoons decided to invest in the brand on a more macro scale to set it up for more accelerated expansion. Now there are 240 Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores in California, Arizona, Nevada and in 10 different Asian and Middle Eastern countries. About a year after buying the business, the Sassoons also decided to make the products kosher.

Many in the community speculate that the Sassoons went kosher because they didn’t want to be responsible for Jews going into the stores and eating non-kosher products, although the Sassoons would only say it’s good for business.

"The market for kosher is growing tremendously," said Debbie Sassoon, who researches and develops the new drinks for the company. "Less than 50 percent of consumers for kosher products are Orthodox Jews. It’s because the kosher stamp means more supervision — a good housekeeping seal of approval, and [people think] that kosher is cleaner and purer. Also being that Los Angeles is the second-largest Jewish community in America, we thought that there would be a benefit to having kosher certification for our products."

However, experts disagree that selling kosher products has wider business benefits.

"I don’t think non-Jews think that kosher means healthier. I don’t think anyone really has a clue what it means," said Hal Sieling of Hal Sieling and Associates, a marketing company for the restaurant business. "There are obviously people who really care about kosher — but they are not gentiles."

Sieling thinks that the coffee craze has yet to reach its peak — he estimates that designer coffee drinking will continue to be popular until about 2010, and that Starbucks, a business with $4 billion in revenues and 7,000 stores (250 in Los Angeles), will carry on dominating the coffee store market, providing Coffee Bean with the staunchest competition.

"Starbucks is the biggest player by a long shot," Sieling said. "Nobody else is close."

Coffee Bean currently makes more than $100 million in sales, and while they are expanding into new neighborhoods, they say they are not interested in giving Starbucks a run for their money nationally.

"We have no plans to be No. 2; no plans to expand to the East Coast, although it might be a possibility since we have hundreds of customers that want us to do that," Elias said. "We focus mostly on the Southern California core market, and will continue to do so. We are born and brewed in California — that is our home."

The Beverly and Alta Vista Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf will have its grand opening on Nov. 2, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., at 7235 Beverly Blvd.

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