Moving and shaking

Friendship Circle of Los Angeles celebrated its annual Walk 4 Friendship LA at Rancho Park on Sept. 14. Under a scorching sun, with highs in the mid-90s, completing the 3K was a definite feat for the more than 400 participating families.

Instead of a foghorn, Friendship Circle founder Rabbi Michy Rav-noy blew the shofar to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and to commemorate the start of the walk, which raised more than $160,000 for the nonprofit that provides programs and support to the families of individuals with special needs.

As fist-pumping techno music blasted through four QSC speakers, participants started checking in at 11:30 a.m. and received their uniforms: purple cotton shirts with the words “Walk With Your Heart” on them. During the opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m., Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz spoke of how he knows about Friendship Circle, as some of his dearest friends are parents of special-needs students.

Chanie Lazaroff, Friendship Circle’s Hebrew schoolteacher and recruitment director, gave a speech about how volunteers are responsible for the organization’s success. She later told the Journal that she has two daughters, ages 17 and 7, and a 12-year-old son, Tani, who has special needs. 

“Everybody in the family is involved, including my son who has special needs. He thinks he’s staff,” she said with a half-smile. “Not only do I work for Friendship Circle, but I’m also a client.”

Forty-five minutes after their departure, flush-faced walkers started trickling back to the festival’s lawn, where they were greeted by performers on stilts, a train, kosher barbecue, popcorn and cotton candy, a puppy-petting area, a rock-climbing wall, a shofar factory and more.

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer

Katsuji Tanabe, chef at Mexikosher and winner of the Food Network’s “Chopped” cooking competition, has partnered with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA). 

Katsuji Tanabe, founder and executive chef of Mexikosher, L.A.’s only strictly kosher Mexican restaurant, is shown with Bryan Zlotnikova, a camper from Kibbutz Max Straus, on Aug. 7. Tanabe conducted a demonstration-based cooking class and lunch with teen campers attending the summer sleep-away camp, which is operated by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. The social services provider recently announced a new cause-marketing partnership with Tanabe, who will advocate mentoring programs for observant Jewish youth.

On Aug. 7, Tanabe hosted a cooking demonstration and workshop for in-residence tweens (ages 7 to 15) at the JBBBSLA-sponsored sleep-away summer camp Kibbutz Max Straus, located in the Verdugo Hills. Although Tanabe is not Jewish (he’s of Japanese and Mexican descent), he’s a prominent figure in the kosher world and now a leading advocate for JBBBSLA, which pairs Jewish boys and girls ages 6 to 18 with upstanding Jewish men and women, respectively, for semimonthly outings and mentorship. 

Tanabe, who was born in Mexico City and runs the only glatt kosher Mexican restaurant in town, hopes his Pico-Robertson restaurant can serve as a go-to hangout for JBBBSLA participants. Mexikosher will host Monday Mentor Meet-Ups, where “littles” (youths aged 6-18) and “bigs” (adult volunteers) can convene. 

Tanabe even will concoct special menu items for mentors and mentees, using local produce grown in the greenhouse at JBBBSLA’s Camp Max Straus. The menu items will change according to available produce.

Tanabe’s efforts are particularly aimed at the shortage of mentors for Orthodox Jewish boys. Randy Schwab, CEO of JBBBSLA, said, “Chef Tanabe was undaunted by culinary naysayers, and he is equally undaunted by this latest challenge — finding more Jewish mentors for children within the Orthodox community. We are thrilled to have him join our cause.” 

As a father, Tanabe said he understands the importance of being a role model.

“Parenting and cooking are all about nurturing,” the chef said. “That’s what JBBBSLA’s mentoring programs do as well.”

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer

Bnei Akiva of the United States and Canada veteran Rabbi Menachem Hecht has been named the first executive director of Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, effective Sept. 1. 

“Bnei Akiva of L.A. is in an exciting and dynamic growth stage that I am thrilled to be a part of,” said Hecht, 32.

He was formerly the assistant director of the national office of Bnei Akiva, helping to manage new initiatives and programs such as the opening of Moshava Ba’ir day camps in New Jersey and Toronto, the local Moshava Malibu overnight camp and two gap-year programs in Israel, Yeshivat Torah v’Avodah and Midreshet Torah v’Avodah, for boys and girls, respectively. 

Bnei Akiva of the United States and Canada is one of the largest religious Zionist youth movements, running camps and educational programs for Jewish youths across the continent.

“I think the No. 1 challenge that the Jewish community collectively faces is how do we engage our youth to become passionate, inspired, committed,” Hecht said.  “Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles is uniquely poised to become a national model for how to make this work — how to build really outstanding year-round, informal educational programming that engages and inspires our youth to grow into committed Jews and Jewish leaders.”

Hecht’s experience includes time as a rosh moshava (Hebrew for “head counselor”) at the Orthodox Jewish summer camp Camp Stone in Sugar Grove, Penn., and as a rabbi and co-director of the Julian Krinsky Yesh Shabbat program in Philadelphia. He also taught Judaic studies at the Frisch School, a co-ed Jewish high school in Paramus, N.J.

Hecht received his doctorate in education and Jewish studies from New York University and studied for smicha (rabbinical ordination) at Yeshiva University. 

— Amanda Epstein, Contributing Writer

Upward of 180 Angelenos flocked to The Phoenix Bar in Beverly Hills on Sept. 7 to partake in Mitzvahs and Martinis, a
fundraiser and end-of-summer mixer benefiting wounded Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers. 

Attendees — largely a lively cohort of young Jewish professionals — came together for drinks, to enjoy one another’s company and to donate to the cause, raising a total of $3,000. Israeli-born Orly Star Setareh, the event’s organizer, worked in conjunction with the New York-based Dror for the Wounded foundation, a grass-roots nonprofit founded by Dror Dagan, to put on the event.

A former IDF soldier, Dagan sustained serious injuries requiring extensive surgery after apprehending a Hamas terrorist in 2004. After his experience, he realized the difficulties faced by the wounded and vowed never to leave a soldier behind. 

Setareh, an Israeli dance teacher by day, worked tirelessly to make the night a memorable one. After tapping in to her dancing roots and throwing a Zumbathon in August that raised $5,500 for IDF care packages, Setareh wanted to try something new. 

“I wanted to create a different fundraiser that was more social and attracted different people,” she said. 

From left: Jenny Applebaum, Orly Star Setareh, Desiree Goldbahar.

She enlisted the help of friends Jenny Applebaum, Desiree Goldbahar, Shelly Kamara, Helen Rosen and Jason Hecht

The first 50 guests to arrive at the trendy Beverly Hills watering hole received a free CD, a mix of Israeli music prepared by Setareh herself. A raffle was held for all those who donated. The prizes included a Pizza Rustica gift card, wine from Gil Turner’s and a fresh new pair of Ray-Bans donated by the office of Dr. Jack Rosen.  

“I’m honored to be a part of such a caring, generous community and beyond thrilled to have created an event for a great cause that was embraced by so many,” Setareh told the Journal. Although the event is over, donations are still being accepted at 

Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

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Rubashkin Revenge: Ethical Certificates at Center of Dispute

About eight months ago, when Katsuji Tanabe agreed to display the Tav HaYosher certificate in the window of his one-year-old restaurant on Pico Boulevard, the head chef and owner of Mexikosher knew that the “ethical seal,” issued by the Modern Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek, would inform customers that he treats his workers with respect and in accordance with California labor laws.

Tanabe didn’t know that in displaying the certificate he was also, in effect, choosing a side in a mostly covert battle between two segments of the Orthodox Jewish community.

On one side is Uri L’Tzedek, a four-year old nonprofit promoting social justice causes that has been supported by a handful of prominent Jewish foundations, including the Joshua Venture Group, Bikkurim, and the Jewish Federations of North America. On the other are an unknown number of individuals who are acting independently and largely anonymously.

At Mexikosher, the certificate hung in the window for between four and six weeks; during that time, Tanabe said he received phone calls from individuals identifying themselves as being from “different Chabads,” and threatening to boycott his restaurant if he didn’t take the certificate down.

Tanabe, who said he hadn’t changed any of his policies to earn the Tav, decided to remove it.

“I don’t talk about politics or religion in the restaurant,” said Tanabe, 31, who describes himself as “Mexican-Japanese-Catholic.” “We only talk about food.”

Although the pushback against the Tav appears to be coming primarily, if not exclusively, from individuals affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch movement, there is no evidence that any official encouragement came from Chabad, according to the organization’s leaders and those involved in the anti-Tav efforts.

The headquarters of Chabad of California is located on Pico Boulevard, within blocks of a dozen Kosher-certified restaurants, including at least one that displays the Tav. In a recent interview, the group’s CEO, Rabbi Chaim Cunin, said he hadn’t heard of the Tav or Uri L’Tzedek until very recently, and that he knew of no coordinated effort to oppose the program.

“If there’s any such conspiracy it’s deep underground,” Cunin said.

The battle between Uri L’Tzedek and the mostly nameless Orthodox Jews threatening to boycott the 100 restaurants nationwide that participate in its signature program may be taking place in the shadows, but it illuminates a rift within American Orthodoxy stemming from the 2008 raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.

Uri L’Tzedek established the Tav Hayosher in 2009 as a free certification. To qualify, employers must demonstrate that they calculate worker’s hours accurately, pay wages—including overtime – promptly and in full and grant breaks to their employees, as required by law. Studies have shown that many food-service businesses – both kosher and non—fall short of these basic legal requirements.

Over the last few months, multiple owners of kosher-certified businesses who display the Tav have been urged to take it down.

“People are threatening the 100 Tav owners around the country, saying they are going to hurt their business and boycott them,” Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, the founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, wrote in an email to The Journal on July 9.

The hardest-hit are in Los Angeles, Yanklowitz said, where Tav-certified businesses have received more complaints than in any other city. Yanklowitz said three local restaurants chose to drop the certification in the face of this controversy. As of July 20, nine Los Angeles-based businesses were listed among the certified restaurants on the Tav’s website.

The issue appears not to be the Tav certification, per se, but rather that in 2008, Uri L’Tzedek was the instigator of a boycott of products from the Agriprocessors meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa, in the wake of the massive immigration raid that closed down the plant.

Aron Markowitz, 31, a self-described “Chabadnik” who has a book of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings on his desk in his Wilshire Boulevard office, is among those who’ve objected to the certificates. He said in an interview that he first heard about the Tav less than a month ago, and, initially, the principle behind the Tav certification sounded to him like a good idea.