The Apartment

Rabbi Chaim Rubin of Congregation Etz Chaim of Hancock Park is not contemplating civil disobedience, but he is dismayed, and the morale of his congregants is at an all-time low.

He recently received word that his Orthodox shtiebl may be evicted from the mansion it has been occupying at 303 S. Highland Ave., in a strictly residential zone of Hancock Park. By a unanimous vote, the Los Angeles City Council upheld two previous decisions that ruled the shul posed parking and other traffic problems to the neighborhood. The council also rejected the shtiebl’s request for a permit to remain in the residential zone.

At an emotional hearing, councilmembers heard all the usual arguments: Members of the Hancock Park Homeowners Association insisted that the shul would set a dangerous precedent and that the matter is not a religious issue, just a land-use issue.

Rubin’s supporters countered that the shtiebl’s location is crucial for elderly residents who can’t walk to synagogues on La Brea Avenue. They said that the issue was one of religious freedom.

But just weeks before the hearing, what congregants were hoping would be their ace in the hole — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 — was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet Rubin isn’t ready to give up. He filed a lawsuit against the city two weeks ago for violating congregants’ religious freedom and is hoping to push a religious-freedom act through Sacramento.

And about being evicted? “I’m just hoping the city will hold out until our lawsuit is resolved,” said Rubin, who is continuing services as usual. — Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer

The Art of Coca-Cola

Good old Israeli know-how has triumphed again, as was witnessed when Las Vegas recently unveiled its latest mind-boggling landmark: a 100-foot-high Coca-Cola bottle (a new world record) encasing two elevators that take visitors to the fourth story of a “showcase mall” dedicated to the World of Coca-Cola.

The giant bottle’s exterior, festooned with thousands of flashing bulbs and neon, lights up the Las Vegas Strip. Inside the bottle, folks riding the elevators are treated to “sounds of crackling ice, pouring soda and a sound track of dynamic Coca-Cola jingles,” read a breathless Coca-Cola all-points bulletin from Atlanta headquarters.

OK, the Israeli angle. On the third floor of the World of Coca-Cola, the “Contours of Art” exhibit “showcases folk art traditions from around the world in the form of oversized, three-dimensional Coca-Cola bottle shapes.”

Following a global competition, the top 15 “sculptures” were selected by “a professional panel and public vote.”

Carrying the colors for Israel was Zohar Gabay, a graphic design student from Tel Aviv. His 8-foot, 3-inch “mosaic sculpture,” featuring the Coca-Cola logo in Hebrew letters, won the judges’ admiration as “one of the collection’s highlights,” according to an enthusiastic Coca-Cola spokeswoman.

Specifically, she revealed, Gabay’s entry “features mosaic tiles in natural colors, placed on a polyurethane bottle foundation. The mosaic technique combines art forms and messages connected with ancient Israel, Greek art and modern times. Several Israeli symbols are prominent, including the Star of David and the Israeli flag.”

While cynical minds might suspect that the unique exhibit is but a commercial promotion for you-know-what, the “rationale,” described in a “fact sheet,” cites a loftier purpose:

“The Coca-Cola contour bottle has been, and continues to be, a source of inspiration for artists around the world. Folk and indigenous art is part of the fabric of life everywhere, and so is Coca-Cola. The exhibit celebrates the traditions and heritage of everyday life, using the Coca-Cola bottle as a symbol of friendship and sharing.”

Also featured in the World of Coca-Cola are a 1930s soda fountain; the 111-year history of Coca-Cola; a 1950s appliance store with “black-and-white television broadcasting favorite Coca-Cola commercials”; a working bottling plant; and a huge gift store that’s stocked with Coca-Cola memorabilia. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor