Billboard mystery ends with interfaith twist


The mysterious billboards went up across the Los Angeles area just after the High Holidays. Each used a variation on the same theme, juxtaposing illustrations: Latkes or fries? Bagels and lox or sushi? Yarmulke or cap?

They carried no other information, and from the beginning it had the Jewish community guessing.

Was it a new kosher deli appealing to ba’alei teshuvah? A catering outfit hoping to penetrate the interfaith market?

Try Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries.

Yes, the big reveal last week that stretched from Westwood to Westlake Village featured the name of the Sinai Temple-founded cemetery, which has locations in the Hollywood Hills and Simi Valley. And the edgy twist is that Mount Sinai is reaching out to interfaith couples.

While many Jewish cemeteries with consecrated land bury Jews only, non-Orthodox cemeteries are increasingly making arrangements to include interfaith couples and families.

Given that 47 percent of all newlywed Jews and one-third of all married Jews are intermarried, according to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, Jewish cemeteries like Mount Sinai are marketing to interfaith couples who would otherwise turn to secular or non-Jewish burial sites.

“In my travels around this community, there were tremendous misconceptions as to what most Jewish cemeteries in Southern California, and especially Mount Sinai, would or would not do. And I felt very strongly, as does my board, that we need to set the record straight,” said Len Lawrence, Mount Sinai’s general manager. “This was an opportunity that we took to tell the community that the rules are different for Mount Sinai.”

According to Rabbi Paul J. Citrin, an L.A. native and pulpit rabbi at Reform Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego, it is acceptable to bury a non-Jewish spouse in a Jewish cemetery. When Jewish cemeteries disallow burial of non-Jews, they are citing custom, not Jewish law.

The Talmud states that for the sake of peaceful relations, non-Jews can be buried in Jewish cemeteries (Gittin 61a). However, non-Jewish clergy are not allowed to officiate in a Jewish cemetery.

The Mount Sinai advertising campaign was developed six months ago by GSS Communiqations, and the revealed billboards will remain up until mid-December.
Mount Sinai’s Lawrence is satisfied with the buzz generated by the campaign, and he expects to see a bump in traffic on the cemetery’s Web site in the next month.

Before the reveal last week, Lawrence said he heard speculation from colleagues and his own college-age sons that the billboards likely had something to do with interfaith couples.

“We think it did what it needed to do,” he said.


Made in Israel


On a typically bustling weekday morning at Elat Market onPico Boulevard, regular shopper Boris Sinofsky was at the fish counter,ordering several pounds of tilapia. He had seen a pamphlet for Fine Foods FromIsrael — a campaign to support Israel through the purchase of its goods — buthe didn’t pay it much mind.

“I shop at Elat, Kosher Club, Koltov all the time. I alreadybuy a lot of Israeli products.”

Over by the meat counter, Gila Mehraban had not even heardof the campaign.

“I usually buy kosher products,” Mehraban said. “But I getall kinds of brands.”

Nobody she knows, she added, is consciously buying Israeliproducts to support the Jewish State.

Fine Foods From Israel — a citywide awareness campaignrunning March 19-31 — hopes to change Jewish consumer patterns. The marketingcampaign was launched earlier this month in a collaboration by the SouthernCalifornia Israel Chamber of Commerce, The Jewish Federation of Greater LosAngeles, the Government of Israel Economic Mission and the Israel Export andInternational Cooperation Institute. More than 60,000 pamphlets weredistributed throughout Los Angeles, listing participation of 90 markets,including 56 Ralphs supermarkets and independent outlets such as Elite Marketand Sami Makolet.  The campaign’s goal: to coax customers to buy products fromIsraeli companies such as Adin Ltd., Segal Wines and Wissotzky Tea.

Fine Foods is one of many ways American Jewish communitieshave been rallying support through Israel, using financial and educationalprograms. But unlike victims of terror funds such as The Jewish Federation’sJews in Crisis, Fine Foods’ objective is not to raise proceeds for specificcharities, but to boost revenue of Israeli companies and, by extension,Israel’s economy. Israel — which has experienced a steady economic downturnsince the second Intifada began in September 2000 — ships about $38 billion intotal exports, an estimated $1 billion of that food-related. Israel exports toNorth America decreased from $76 million in 2001 to $70 million in 2002.

Fine Foods is one of many recent “buy Israel” efforts.Another food-related initiative involves Osem USA  — the American branch of Israel’s largest food manufacturer — which has partnered with Jewish NationalFund (JNF) to launch the Passover campaign Matzah With a Mitzvah. For everyfive boxes of Osem products purchased, Osem will make a donation to JNF toplant a tree in Israel. Osem will also promote facts on its packaging aboutJNF, the century-old organization that has developed more than 250,000 acres ofIsraeli land. Major supermarket chains nationwide — including Ralphs andAlbertsons — are endorsing this endeavor.

“This is a great way to support Israel,” Osem’s PresidentIzzet Ozdogan said. “With one purchase, you are helping Israel’s economy,fulfilling the obligations of Passover and planting trees in Israel — threemitzvot for the price of one.”

“Buy Israel” programs are also transcending the foodindustry. American Jewish Committee devoted part of its Web site to a “Made inIsrael” section that identifies Israeli cosmetics and clothing brands, andincludes links to other “buy Israel” Web sites, such as ShopBenYehuda.com andUSAIsrael.org.

Consumers have also been supporting Israel in the homeimprovement arena, where Israeli companies have a prominent local presence.Doorset Closet Mobel, manufacturer of custom closet and storage systems, openeda Beverly Hills showroom in 2001, while Caesarstone — pioneers of quartzsurfaces — has based U.S. operations in Sun Valley. Meanwhile, Bradco Kitchens& Baths has become the exclusive U.S. distributor of Israeli companiesTopaz Kitchens and Harsa Sink.

Doron Abrahami, consul for economic affairs at the SouthernCalifornia Israel Chamber of Commerce, believes that word is slowly gettingout. He was encouraged by the 160 people who attended a Fine Foods “food expo,”held March 24 in Beverly Hills. The networking party attracted store owners,distributors and buyers for Ralphs, Albertsons and Trader Joe’s.

“It’s too early,” Abrahami said, “but from the feedback thatwe’re getting, we’re considering holding this campaign again next year.”

Midway through this attempt to boost the quotient of Israeligoods, the Fine Foods campaign’s effectiveness is difficult to separate from anoverall, pre-Passover trend. Participating retailers endorse the marketingendeavor, but report conflicting feedback on its effectiveness. David Eskenazi,manager of Kosher Club in Los Angeles, noticed a small spike in the shape of afew phone calls.

“Overall there’s been a general increase in the purchase ofIsraeli goods even before the campaign,” said Eskenazi, who added that,conversely, “there’s been a drop in the sales of all of our French products.”

As a result of demand, Kosher Club will carry four moreIsrael-imported wine brands this Passover.

“Consumers are making a choice to support Israel, and we’remaking an effort to purchase these products,” Eskenazi said.

Noori Zbida has seen a bump in interest since the campaignbegan at his Fairfax Avenue store, Picanty.

“People want to choose more Israeli products than before,”Zbida said.

Tzvi Guttman of Mr. Kosher in Encino, felt otherwise.

“I sell the same amount around the year,” said Guttman, who”didn’t feel a difference.”

Abrahami cautioned against looking for instantaneous resultsfrom this inaugural Fine Foods.

“It might take a year to measure this campaign,” he said.”It’s a big community. I think there’s a big potential.”

Chamber of Commerce executive committee member BennettZimmerman agreed.

“If we could reach 100,000 people in California with ourcampaign,” he said, “that’s $100 million worth of goods. If we can replicatethis across the country, that’s a very significant impact on Israel’s economy.”

For more information on the Fine Foods from Israel campaign, call (323) 658-7924; visit www.finefoodsisrael.com. For more information on Jewish National Fund, call (800) 542-8733; visit www.jnf.org. For more information on American Jewish Committee’s Made in Israel program, visit www.ajc.org.