New Year’s Eve: Grand Avenue was great


Note to Los Angeles officials: We do like to party in public.

Sure, we’re three hours behind the East Coast, but what’s wrong with that? Finally, Los Angeles turned up the heat on New Year’s Eve this year, after being forever the stepsister to New York. Some 25,000 people – mostly very youthful – poured into the downtown 12-acre Civic Center’s Grand Park between the hours of 6 p.m. and midnight on Dec. 31, keeping-on-coming until police shut down the security gates to overflow crowds.

My husband and I arrived at 8, via the Red Line subway from Hollywood, and it was an easy ride, packed with expectant people wearing party hats. The train took us right to the Temple Street sidewalk entrance to the festivities. The security line at that hour was quick and efficient (no bags allowed), but once inside the gate we were immediately confronted by extremely long lines filling the sidewalks for – no surprise – the food trucks. We later counted about a dozen or more trucks lined up at various locations throughout the grounds — and every one of them had lines with scores of people waiting patiently, if hungrily. We’d wisely dined before, so opted out.

Note to food truckers: This is a great opportunity – next year.

A few balloon installations decorated the venue, and you could line up (yes, again) to get your picture taken and have it projected two-stories high onto a wall of the Los Angeles County Hall of Records building. The line for the portraits was as much as a couple of hours long, we were told, so we skipped that, too.

But even so, everywhere the feeling of the event was festive, not restive, and all that you’d want from a New Year’s Eve – minus the ultra-fancy clothes or the liquor (another huge line for a smallish beer garden – not for us),  and it was way warmer here than in the below-freezing N.Y.C. L.A.’s NYE was, in fact, a balmy evening, with crystal clear air and a surrounding, lit-up downtown that made the scene really, well, romantic. And urban, of course, and refreshingly communal — for L.A.

A gorgeous light show lit up the City Hall tower – with scenes of palm trees (well-suited for the L.A. winter) and various flickering, colorful abstractions. Lots to look at and quite pretty. And there were bands, all of them local, ranging from rock to rap and R and B.  There is even a small dog park at the northeast end of the park, and a surprising number of people had brought their pets.

Finally, a place to really gather.

This inaugural event was sponsored by the Music Center and Los Angeles County, and kudos to them for getting it done. At 9 p.m., in a nod to tradition, the New York Times Square ball drop was projected onto the same Hall’s wall, but then the L.A. scene quickly resumed. No need to pretend we were back East.

Crowds continued to fill up the grounds, and by 10 p.m. some of the trucks were running out of food. Clearly, this kind of success was not expected – and there were few places to sit down. Even so, it was not the kind of sardine-packed, pocket-picking, risky scene of Times Square. The crowd was young, some families, very diverse and congenial.

We left long before midnight (sorry!), and as we entered the subway saw more and more people taking advantage of the free after-9 p.m. rides offered for New Years Eve by the Metro system. I’d assumed we’d see the final momentus light show on KTLA-TV or another news station once we got home.

But no. Repeats of New York were playing on even the local stations as the clock chimed 12, leaving fellow Angelenos unaware of the region's newest tradition.

Maybe the TV stations will catch on next year, because this party must go on. It was great.

May this good start to 2014 be just the beginning of many new traditions.

Happy New Year.

Chanukah at the White House


My new favorite way to celebrate Chanukah is lighting candles with Barack Obama.

The White House Chanukah Party was held Dec 5, a day after Chanukah.  It was my first time attending the annual event, which President George W. Bush began in 2001.  I don’t expect it’s one of those experiences I’ll ever get used to.

This year the White House held two Chanuka parties, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, each for about 400 invited guests. 

Why in this year did Obama dip twice?

“Frankly,” one long time guest, a well-known pundit, told me,  “he needs Jewish support,” 

The evening party began at 6 pm.  We lined up outside the East Wing and proceeded slowly through three stations of security.

The doors to the East Wing were ringed in gold wreaths. A Marine guard greeted us, and we made our way down a hallway lined with family pictures of Christmases past—the Clintons, the Bushes, the  Obamas– those families.

The rooms inside were a Christmas fantasy.   The first tree was decorated with gold stars, to honor service men and women killed in the line of duty.  Guests stopped and wrote personal holiday notes to soldiers.

As we entered, the a capella group Pizmon, composed of students from Columbia and Jewish Theological Seminary, sang Hebrew songs.  Large oil portraits of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson looked down.

Story continues after the video.

Inside, more trees — so many trees! — and bunting and crèches.  The effect was warm and festive, not gaudy. Each room was a small museum of presidential portraits, American art, rare books. 

In the two larger rooms, four buffet tables bore endless platters of grilled vegetables, tabouli salad, chicken galantine, pastries and of course crisp latkes, each the size of a Kennedy half dollar. Rabbi Levi Shemtov supervised the White House kitchen for the event, making it kosher. Lamb was specially butchered to produce thick, lollipop-sized chops, each seared until just pink, and exquisitely tender.

“I think I ate a whole flock,” said one guest.

Rabbi Shemtov also oversaw the installation of the giant menorah on the Mall. We stood in front of the curved bay window in the Red Room and the bearded Lubavitch rabbi pointed it out to me, shining in the distance.  Two feet behind us in the center of the room rose a massive decorated Christmas tree. 

Most Jewish events are fundraisers, heavy on donors, or conferences, heavy on professionals, or services, heavy on rabbis.  At the White House Chanukkah, they all come together.  I spotted journalists (Jeffrey Goldberg and David Makovsky),  academics (Norman Ornstein and Dr. Arnold Eisen), rabbis (Capers Funnye, Shmuely Yakelovitz, David Ingber, Noah Farkas, Sharon Brous), Jewish professionals (Rachel Levin, Malcolm Hoenlein), professional atheletes (Craig Breslow  of the Boston Red Sox, the Houston Rockets’ Omri Casspi), Israeli Americans (Adam Milstein), cookbook author Joan Nathan, consultant Steve Rabinowitz, all four Jewish Supreme Court Justices, Congressman Henry Waxman and Brad Sherman, former congressmen Robert Wexler and Howard Berman, and White House staffers (Special Assistant to the President Jonathan Greenblatt and Matt Nosanchuk, the new Director of Jewish Outreach as well as many lay community leaders and donors.

There were rabbis of all denominations, from Lubavitch to Reconstructionist, and Jews of all political stripes. To get such a diverse group of Jews together and celebrating under one roof you’d have to be, well, President of the United States.

“You’re not exactly a fan,” one woman said to her husband as they posed in the Obama’s entryway.   

The husband took a few steps until he was beneath a portrait of former First Lady Laura Bush.

“Here,” he said, “now take the picture.”

Before the President and First Lady Michelle Obama entered and after they left, the most well-known face in the room was the man standing by a Christmas tree in the State Dining room, surrounded by a admirers:  Larry David.  The other celebrity in the crowd was Joshua Malina, who came with his wife Melissa Merwin. Malina  currently stars in the White House centered-drama Scandals.   

“You must have been here before,” a guest asked Malina, who rose to fame in another White House drama,  “The West Wing.”

“No,” he said, “I only get to meet fake Presidents.”

A Marine guard stepped away from her official duties, broke out a big smile and asked for a photo beside Malina.   

The biggest celebrities entered the Grand Foyer at about 8 pm. Between the first celebration and the evening one, news came that Nelson Mandela had died, and Obama’s remarks quickly moved to remembering his personal hero.

“Tonight our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family,” he said.  They mourn a moral giant who sought to bring about justice, not only in South Africa but he inspired people around the world to do that. The idea that every human being deserves dignity and the notion that justice shall prevail.”

“Yes!” — an audience member interjected.

“A Supreme Court justice just said that,” the President pointed out.

“Over the last eight days Jews around the world have gathered with friends and family to light the menorah and tell the story of a miracle, of a people who surmounted overwhelming odds, to reclaim their homeland and the right to practice their religion. …We light these candles tonight to remind us we’re still writing the chapters of that story today.”

Obama tied the spirit of Chanukah to the need to remain vigilant in the face of oppression.

“We need to partner with our allies that share those values, including the state of Israel,” Obama said.   “Together with our Israeli friends we’re determined that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.”

The crowd greeted this with cheers and applause, and the President continued.

“For the first time in a decade we have stopped the progress of Iran’s nuclear program,” he continued. “The toughest of our sanctions will remain in place, that’s good for us, that’s good for Israel.  Over the next months, we’re going to continue our diplomacy, to reach a comprehensive solution. And through it all, as always, our commitment to Israel and its security will remain ironclad and unshakable.”

The President then introduced the brass menorah.  It was rescued from a synagogue destroyed by Nazis in the  former Czechoslovakia.  Surrounded by the ornate Christmas decorations, it looked especially humble.

A rabbi who is also an army chaplain led the Shechechyanu and a Chanuka blessing  that did not include the traditional words for the actual lighting of the candles. A conclave of Orthodox rabbis meeting in an adjacent room had earlier decided on the best way to approach the post-Chanuka candle-lighting.

Two Holocaust survivors joined the President in lighting the candles.  The crowd spontaneously began singing “Maoz Tsur”—Rock of Ages.  The President beamed.

In a lighter mood afterwards, he showed off a turkey-shaped menorah that had been given to him at the afternoon ceremony.  He explained that Chanuka and Thanksgiving won’t coincide for another 70,000 years. 

“We call this a ‘Menurkey,” he said.   

At his Chanukah parties,  President  Bush would stand two hours in an actual receiving line, and each guest got a picture.   In years past, Obama came down for the blessings, said a few remarks and left—ten minutes tops.  The feedback from the crowd that made the pilgrimage-slash-schlep to shake his hand was that this did more harm than good.

“Obama got the message,” said one repeat guest.

This time, after the ceremony, Obama descended the podium and shook hands with guests who crowded toward him from behind a cordon.  He spent a half hour making his way around a semi-circle, disappeared behind some doors for a few minutes, then reappeared and crossed the room, speaking with more guests, shaking more hands.

The political reasons aren’t hard to fathom.  The President needs the Jewish community on his side to back him on his current talks with Iran, and on whatever negotiations he may still attempt between Israel and the Palestinians.

And if his drive to reduce rising inequality in America is his professed rest-of-term agenda, he will find natural allies among the mostly well-heeled Chanuka celebrants who traditionally vote liberal on social justice issues.

Earlier that day I toured the Newseum, which had an exhibit on newspaper coverage of the Freedom Summer, when black and white students went South to register black voters and encountered vicious beatings and racism together. Now, I thought, look who’s President.  And look who is singing “Maoz Tsur” in the White House, just  few feet from Bess Truman's piano.

I suppose nothing in Washington operates in a politics-free zone, but it would be cynical, too cynical, to write that evening off as just politics.   There was true hospitality, true thanksgiving, and a bit of the miraculous.

When my turn came to face Obama amid the crush,  we shook hands and I said, “Thank you, Mr. President.”  And I meant it. I really did.

 

Rob Eshman is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Tribe Media Corp. Follow him  @foodaism.

The sky’s the limit


Preparing for the complete bar or bat mitzvah experience — the ceremony, the food, the entertainment — can feel like a three-ring circus. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that carnivals are one of the hottest themes these days as kids prepare for the biggest party they’ve thrown in their 13 years on the planet.

No matter what theme for a reception that you choose, be sure to make the most of it. In other words, don’t settle for a Big Top — make it bigger and better.

“When it comes down to it,” said Linda Vogel, owner of Dream Makers in Pasadena (dreammakersparties.com), “no matter what the theme is, it’s immersive. Going all out, whether it be Hawaiian-themed, -Hollywood-themed or casino-themed, is the biggest trend right now.”

These days, a popular way to do that is by taking a theme and applying it to everything from the invitations to the food at the reception, advised Allyson Levine, event coordinator at Bob Gail Special Events in Los Angeles (bobgail.com).

 “A major trend is keeping the reception theme completely immersive and cohesive. For instance, if the kid chooses a vintage carnival theme, a theme that’s very popular this year, we want to appeal to all five senses from start to finish,” Levine said. “We’ll erect a full circus tent to hold the event, serve corn dogs and funnel cake out of carnival carts, have real carnival games for the kids to play and [have] circus performers. 

“We can take practically any venue, and turn it from a blank canvas into the perfectly unique experience each family aims for.”

According to Joel Macht, owner of Spotlight LA in Simi Valley (spotlightla.com), an event-planning company that focuses on new media and technology, interactive media visuals and décor are finally gaining widespread popularity after nearly a decade of existing on the fringes.

“It’s taking an experience, like an awards show, and making every moment at hand have an aural, visual and interactive component: entrances, parent dances — everything. We have a visual jockey mixing with the disc jockey,” Macht said.

Immersive is in, says Dream Makers in Pasadena. Photo courtesy of Dream Makers

One of the largest trends this year is a “lounge and club” theme, he explained. That involves creating a space that feels like the glamorous clubs celebrities frequent: plush, modular seating, mood lighting and, of course, a DJ and dance floor.

“Our visual and aural artists work to synergize a seamless experience for the bar or bat mitzvah and make sure the event utilizes technology in a way that reallyimmersive sets it apart,” Macht said.

The party maestro pointed out that one theme that’s popular is the “no theme” reception — one that aims to capture the personality of the young man or woman who’s coming of age. It’s all about taking the bar or bat mitzvah’s interests and tastes in décor and music, and creating an environment that is unmistakably the child’s personal “brand.”

“People want something that’s really special and unique and an experience that’s very intimate and meaningful,” Macht said. “For us, as a company, no matter the cost of the reception, we want the families to know that this is a celebration, and that we approach it with respect and compassion, and understand the importance of this event. We want to celebrate with them, as part of the community.”

Laurie Camacho, owner of Party Planners USA in Los Angeles (partyplannersusa.com), said there are ways to make any party theme exceptional.

Technology meets mitzvah with Spotlight LA in Simi Valley. Photo courtesy of Spotlight LA

“A lot of what’s big now is neon and that craze of everything being in 3-D. We’re still doing a lot of casinos, carnivals, circuses and club themes, but we try to make it look totally different by using professional sets and scenes,” Camacho said. “Even when we do a table design, we can make it so it looks 3-D when you look down. The first thing clients ask for is the wow factor.”

According to Camacho, people are spending $10,000 to $50,000 for something spectacular. Before you hyperventilate, take a deep breath.

“We help them make this event as amazing as we can with any budget. We just try to keep the cost/expectation ratio realistic,” Camacho said. “We’ve done everything from renting out penthouses, warehouses and soundstages to creating a very special space at the child’s synagogue. Wherever it is, we don’t want to take away from the religious aspect of the ceremony.” 

The problem with Israel’s electoral system


Israel’s electoral system is the root cause of the disheartening polarization and superficiality on display in Israel’s current election season. Many wrongly point to the egos of our politicians as the underlying reason. In reality, powerful constitutional disincentives for collaboration shape our politics.

Israel is a parliamentary democracy, whereby voters elect parties to serve in the 120-seat Knesset, based on proportional representation. Thus, a party that receives 10 percent of the votes would hold 12 seats. After elections, parties must establish a coalition of a minimum of 61 MKs, the head of which becomes the prime minister.

This system encourages divisiveness among the public. The 34 parties that will stand for election next week distinguish themselves by inciting and polarizing: religious versus secular, poor versus rich, Ashkenazim versus Sephardim, periphery against center, hawks against doves, Jews against Arabs. On the right, the joint list of the Likud and Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu is losing power to smaller sectoral parties such as Shas and Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi. On the left, Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni, Shelly Yachimovich and Shaul Mofaz — of Yesh Atid, Hatnua, Labor and Kadima, respectively — failed to join forces in spite of evident similarities in their vision.

Meanwhile, after the elections, some of these parties inevitably will make up the next government, and many of them will repeatedly join forces on various legislative initiatives. Hence, while the public remains divided, the politicians collaborate.

A reversal of this pattern could be readily available through a simple amendment establishing as prime minister the head of the party that gets the highest number of votes. This would encourage politicians to join forces in inclusive political frameworks and broad sectors of the population to support two ruling Zionist parties on the right and on the left. It would also incentivize politicians to be centrist and pragmatic.

I hope that such a change will be the legacy of the coming Knesset. There will be a large parliamentary block that would support such a reform, and powerful forces are gearing up with the civil society as well. The position of the likely Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party will be key, as in the current election campaign they have been the primary victim of the present electoral system.

Finally, a thought on the U.S. political system: The polarization of American politics and the deadlock in Washington may also result from a crisis in its electoral system. Decades of gerrymandering have turned most electoral districts into either red or blue, breeding ideological politicians who cater to their ideological bases and not pragmatically to the center. The United States thrived when it was purple. It is muddling through when it is red or blue. Go purple.

A final note: My personal perspective on these issues dates back to 1999: My service in the Bureau of the Prime Minister between 1999 and 2001 exposed me to the structural failure of Israeli governance. After a year at Harvard’s Kennedy School (class of 2002), I launched Re’ut to generate substantive impact, as well as an initiative named Yesodot (Foundations) to reform Israeli governance, which was active until 2004. I have served the cause of electoral reform ever since and am proud that the core logic of Yesodot is now commonly accepted by all other groups working toward this end.


Gidi Grinstein is the founder and president of the Re’ut Institute in Tel Aviv.

Computer woes force Likud to extend hours in primary vote


Polls will remain open past midnight in Likud Party primary voting following computer malfunctions at several polling stations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the chairman of the ruling Likud, made the announcement Sunday of the longer voting hours following malfunctions at several stations, including the 80 computerized voting systems at Jerusalem's main polling station at the International Convention Center.

The problems led to calls by party leaders to postpone the vote after voters were turned away at some polling stations or left without casting their ballots after waiting a long time.

The party's 123,351 members are voting to select the Knesset list ahead of the Jan. 22 national elections. The polls opened at 9 a.m.

Some 97 Likud candidates are competing for 25 realistic spots on the Likud's Knesset list.

Meanwhile, Yair Lapid, head of the newly formed centrist party Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, said Sunday that he had offered former Kadima Party head Tzipi Livni the second slot on his party's list, and promised that she would be a full partner in all major decisions.

“Splitting the centrist bloc is not good for Israel, and I am calling her to join forces and change the country together,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Oct. 27–Nov 2, 2012


SAT OCT 27

“Seeds of Resiliency”

Documentarian Susan Polis Schutz’s new film introduces us to 12 diverse people who have survived tragedies and challenges by having hope and helping others, including a Holocaust survivor who believes that “the worst can bring out the best in us,” a man who escaped war-torn Uganda and now assists other refugees, and a Korean professor who became a quadriplegic but does not consider himself unfortunate. Sat. Various times. $5. Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com.

SUN OCT 28

“Midrashic Mirrors”

An art exhibition and panel discussion marks the completion of “Midrashic Mirrors: Creating Holiness in Imagery and Intimacy,” a book project developed by a group of female artists and writers at Temple Israel of Hollywood, which illustrates how the creative process animates the nexus between Torah and our personal lives. A wine, cheese and dessert reception kicks off the festivities, followed by a walk-through of the installation. Afterward, Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh facilitates a discussion with the project’s authors and artists. The event concludes with a first-edition book signing and sale, with proceeds benefiting Temple Israel’s education scholarships. Sun. 3-6 p.m. Free. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330. tioh.org.

Propositions Party

Are you confused about the propositions? Temple Kol Tikvah holds a nonpartisan forum for California voters to learn about of the issues on the Nov. 6 ballot. Speakers present the pro and con positions on all 11 of the state propositions, which include tax initiatives to fund schools, labeling of genetically modified food, three-strikes reform, an end to the death penalty and increased penalties for human trafficking. Sun. 3-6 p.m. Free. Temple Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670. koltikvah.org.

“Unbroken Spirit”

Former Soviet refusenik Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich, who at the age of 22 attempted to hijack a plane to the West to raise awareness about the desperate plight of Soviet Jews, discusses and signs the newly released English translation of his memoir, “Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage, and Survival.” Sun. 7 p.m. Free (reservations required). Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-8403. museumoftolerance.com/unbrokenspirit.

MON OCT 29

“Jewish Values and the 2012 Ballot”

IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous and Rabbi Ronit Tsadok, American Jewish University’s Rabbi Aryeh Cohen and leaders of social justice organization Bend the Arc discuss the November ballot initiatives through a Jewish lens, addressing what Jewish tradition says about the death penalty, criminal justice and income equality. Mon. 7:30 p.m. Free. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870, (323) 761-8350. ikar-la.org, bendthearc.us/events.

TUE OCT 30

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor Zubin Mehta leads the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Schubert’s Symphony No. 3, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Brahms’ Symphony
No. 1. Pianist Yuja Wang also appears. Tue. 8 p.m. $47-$156. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2000. laphil.com.

THU NOV 1

“Rita in Concert: A Celebration of My Roots”

Israel’s diva reconnects with her Iranian roots and brings a world-music experience to UCLA as part of her U.S. tour. Rita performs selections from her latest album, “My Joys,” which features contemporary renditions of classic Iranian songs, blending Tel Aviv-inspired club music, pop and gypsy sounds with Farsi lyrics. Sponsored by the Iranian American Jewish Federation. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $35-$200. UCLA campus, Royce Hall, 240 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. cap.ucla.edu

Pete Wilson and Gray Davis

Former Govs. Wilson and Davis discuss Propositions 30 and 38, initiatives on the November election ballots that promise to raise additional money for K-12 education and community colleges. Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles and Journal columnist, moderates. Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. wisela.org.

FRI NOV 2

2012 Kindertransport Association Conference

The Kindertransport Association, a nonprofit that unites children Holocaust refugees of the Kindertransport rescue movement with their descendants, hosts “Generation to Generation: Honoring the Legacy, Transforming the Future,” a three-day biennial international gathering. Workshops and speakers explore the legacy of the Kindertransports, a rescue movement that took place on the eve of World War II and saved nearly 10,000 German, Austrian and Czech children. Fri. 7 p.m. Through Nov. 4. $330 (Kindertransport Association members), $370 (general). Includes two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, programs and complimentary shuttle from John Wayne International Airport. Hotel registration: $99 per night (single or double occupancy). Irvine Marriott Hotel, 18000 Van Karman Ave., Irvine. (516) 938-6084. kindertransport.org

The story behind the Hotel Shangri-La anti-Semitism trial


It was late in the afternoon on Aug. 15, a Wednesday, when the jury delivered its verdict to a Santa Monica courtroom. The discrimination case that had been brought against the oceanfront boutique Hotel Shangri-La by a group of young Jews had been going on for nearly four weeks, and the jurors had taken five full days for their deliberations. It was so late in the day, in fact, that James Turken, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, and some of his clients who were still standing by, had to be let into the locked courthouse building in Santa Monica by a security guard.

And even though Turken was already hopeful that the jury’s prolonged deliberation might mean good news for his side, it wasn’t until the attorney took a seat in the courtroom that he found out for certain just how overwhelming their victory was.

A court employee had already begun reading the jury’s verdicts for each of the 18 individual plaintiffs, and, with each additional decision, the message became increasingly clear: The jury firmly believed Turken’s clients’ allegations that the hotel and its president, CEO and part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, had illegally discriminated against them, solely because they were Jewish.

The total amount in damages and statutory payments awarded to the plaintiffs on that day added up to about $1.2 million. On the following day, because the jury found the defendants had acted with “malice, oppression and fraud” against most of the plaintiffs, they would also impose a fine on Adaya and the hotel of $440,000 in punitive damages — bringing the size of the total penalties to more than $1.6 million.

But Turken was already elated on Wednesday.

“Home run,” Turken whispered to this reporter. “Home run.”

This story dates back to two years before, to July 11, 2010, when the plaintiffs, most of them affiliated with the Young Leadership Division of the local chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), all attended a pool party organized by the group at the Shangri-La.

The group had made arrangements for the event through an event promoter, Scott Paletz, who had been bringing people to the hotel’s rooftop restaurant since March of that year. Starting at 11 a.m. on that Sunday, the FIDF group had been allotted a cordoned-off area on the pool’s deck, where members had installed a pair of banners announcing their presence. At a check-in table in the courtyard, a blue shirt was displayed with the word “Legacy,” the FIDF program the group was fundraising for that day. It’s a program that brings the young relatives of Israeli soldiers killed in the line of duty for a month-long stay at a summer camp in the U.S.

Adaya, 48, a Pakistani-born Muslim, was also at the pool that day, there to watch the World Cup final game in her cabana. After examining some of the FIDF group’s promotional literature, Adaya instructed members of her staff to take a number of actions against the group — including forcing the FIDF group to take down its banners, literature and other evidence of the organization’s presence. Many of the plaintiffs testified to seeing hotel security guards inform some of the FIDF guests, all easily identified by the blue promotional wristbands they were wearing, that they were not allowed to swim in the pool, or even dangle their feet into the water. The plaintiffs also alleged they heard from a hotel employee that Adaya had made comments about wanting to remove “the [expletive] Jews” from the hotel or the pool.

The hotel staff did not forcibly kick out the attendees of the FIDF party, but their actions, the plaintiffs said, ruined the party. Though it had been expected to last into the evening, the day ended when the plaintiffs left the hotel, around 5 p.m., according to testimony during the trial.

Many of the plaintiffs (most, but not all, of them Jews) also testified that they could not believe they were experiencing discrimination of this sort, at a chic hotel in Santa Monica, in 2010. But that’s precisely what they came to believe had happened, and they were able to convince the jury that Adaya and the hotel had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a far-reaching California state law that outlaws discrimination on the basis of “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.”

The law entitles all Californians to “the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever,” and though it was adopted in 1959, a time when the most egregious forms of discrimination were directed against African Americans and other people of color, the statute clearly applies to religious groups, as well.

None of the legal experts interviewed for this article could point to a previous case in which the Unruh Act had been used to affirm the rights of Jews in the way that it was in the Shangri-La case, however. (One case, Sinai Memorial Chapel v. Dudler, had been brought in 1991 by a Jewish plaintiff and cited the Unruh Act, but in that instance the plaintiff was accusing other Jews of discriminating against her because she came from Russia.)

“I don’t think it makes new law, because it simply affirmed that there was a violation of existing law,” Turken said of the Shangri-La victory. “But do I think the case is important? Yeah, I think it’s important. My clients wanted the defendants held up to the world and found liable — and that happened.”

Built in 1939, the Art Deco Hotel Shangri-La is situated on the corner of Ocean and Arizona avenues, with a pool set in an interior courtyard, protected from any winds coming off the Pacific Ocean. The clean, white exterior of the 71-room facility glistens in the Southern California sunshine.

Tehmina Adaya’s father, Ahmad Adaya, purchased the hotel in 1983. Reading a March 2010 post on her blog, tamieadaya.com, one might imagine the Shangri-La to be the Santa Monica equivalent of the Chateau Marmont.

“I had the privilege of growing up in and around an LA institution that as Hollywood’s ocean front hotel had a long history of being a hideaway for high profile figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise, Diane Keaton, Madonna and Sean Penn,” Adaya wrote, not long after a $35-million renovation of the Shangri-La was completed in 2009.

But if the hotel does, in fact, aspire to a degree of exclusivity, some of the evidence presented in court appeared to belie that aim. When Adaya took the stand as a witness on Aug. 1, Turken asked her if a formal policy exists as to who is allowed to use the hotel’s pool. Adaya responded that a sign now stands on the pool deck informing visitors that only guests of the hotel and people who have rented cabanas are entitled to swim in the pool.

Asked whether such a sign was posted on the day of the FIDF event, however, Adaya responded, “I’m not sure.”

Attorneys defending Adaya and the Hotel Shangri-La maintained throughout the trial that the FIDF group had not made a formal arrangement with the hotel to hold its party there, and therefore the hotel and Adaya were justified in their actions.

Yet in cross-examination on the witness stand, Adaya retreated from some of her previous allegations about the plaintiffs. Adaya acknowledged that, contrary to the report prepared by the hotel’s head of security, the FIDF group was not behaving in a raucous manner. And when Turken asked Adaya about a lawsuit she had filed against his clients, in which she alleged that they had posted libelous and defamatory comments on various Web sites about her hotel following the ill-fated event, the hotel owner admitted that she had no evidence that it was Turken’s clients who posted the comments.

“But their friends did,” Adaya said.

Whether it was Adaya’s own apparent uncertainty about the Shangri-La’s policies — including those governing the relationship between the hotel and the separate company that in 2010 was running the hotel’s food and beverage concessions — that impacted the jury’s verdict, it is impossible to say. At the close of the trial, before jury deliberations, Adaya declined to speak to this reporter. Adaya also was not present in court when the verdict was announced, nor, despite a request by the court, did she appear to hear the additional penalties read on the following day. Follow-up requests for an interview with Adaya for this article, submitted to her representatives, were declined.

A number of members of the hotel staff were present in the courtroom representing her, accompanied by a recently hired communications counselor with a specialty in crisis communications. They spoke in her defense, saying she intends to appeal the ruling.

Ellen Adelman, chief business development officer at the Shangri-La for the past two years, said she had spoken to Adaya that morning, who, Adelman said, was “disappointed” with the verdict.

“I’ve worked for Tehmina Adaya for over two years, and I have always received the utmost respect from her,” Adelman, who is Jewish, said. Adelman described her boss as one of the “most open people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” and said that the hotel employs staff from “over 12 countries” and welcomed guests from “over 21 different countries” in July.

Standing next to Adelman was Miles Lozano, the hotel’s director of public relations and marketing. Lozano, too, is Jewish, a fact he also made sure to note in a conversation during the morning recess.

“I went to Crossroads School with [Adaya’s] children, her children attended my bar mitzvah,” said Lozano, who declined to state his age but appeared young enough that his bar mitzvah might not be such a distant memory. “I’ve always known Tehmina Adaya to be amazingly open-minded as far as religion or anything like that.”

As for the plans to appeal the ruling, Adelman said that Adaya “firmly believes in the judicial system, and she will appeal this.” Defense attorney Philip Black, meanwhile, wrote in an e-mail to this reporter on the day punitive damages were assessed that he was “mystified, perplexed and extremely disappointed in the jury.”

“Appeal expected,” Black added.

Israeli political constellation realigns as Kadima quits government


For the second time in just two months, the Israeli political universe was upended when Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima Party voted to quit Israel’s governing coalition.

Kadima’s departure, the result of a breakdown in negotiations over reforming Israel’s military draft law to include Charedi Orthodox Jews, shatters the 94-seat super-majority that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu controlled in the 120-seat Knesset.

It also raises questions for the future of Kadima, Israel’s draft and the timing of new elections.

While the loss of Kadima’s 28 seats still leaves Netanyahu’s coalition with the majority it needs to govern, Netanyahu is now seen as more likely to move up Israel’s next elections, which now are scheduled for fall 2013.

Netanyahu had been set to dissolve the Knesset and call for new elections nine weeks ago when Mofaz stunned the Israeli political establishment by bringing Kadima, Israel’s main opposition party, into the governing coalition. The move was seen as a gambit by Mofaz, who had won Kadima’s leadership several weeks earlier, to stave off elections in which Kadima was set to lose significant ground.

For Netanyahu, the coalition deal was a way both to hobble the opposition and give him more leeway in formulating a new military draft law. In February, Israel’s Supreme Court struck down the current draft regulation, called the Tal Law, which excuses Charedi Orthodox from universal mandatory military service for Israeli Jews. The court ordered that a new law be enacted by Aug. 1 or else all Israeli Jews would be subject to the draft.

Netanyahu’s other coalition partners include Charedi Orthodox parties that oppose drafting large numbers of Charedi men or subjecting them to national service. 

The debate over the new draft law has roiled Israel in recent weeks. Many Israelis long have resented what they see as the free ride given to Charedi Israelis, who are not required to serve in the army but are still eligible for state welfare benefits.

In the end it was Kadima that quit the government in protest over proposed reforms that it said did not go far enough.

At a news conference on July 17 announcing Kadima’s decision to leave the government, Mofaz said he had rejected Netanyahu’s proposal of deferring national service until age 26; Kadima wanted the draft deferral to end at age 22.

“It is with deep regret that I say that there is no choice but to decide to leave the government,” Mofaz told a closed-door meeting of Kadima, according to the Israeli news site Ynet. Only three of Kadima’s 28 members voted in favor of staying in the coalition.

“Netanyahu has chosen to side with the draft-dodgers,” Mofaz told reporters after the meeting, according to Haaretz. “I have reached an understanding that the prime minister has not left us a choice and so we have responded.”

In a letter to Mofaz from Netanyahu’s office, the prime minister responded, “I gave you a proposal that would have led to the conscription of ultra-Orthodox and Arabs from the age of 18. I explained to you that the only way to implement this on the ground is gradually and without tearing Israeli society apart, especially at a time when the State of Israel is facing many significant challenges. I will continue to work toward the responsible solution that Israeli society expects.”

With just two weeks to go before the Tal Law expires, it’s not clear where Kadima’s departure leaves the future of Israel’s military draft.

What seems certain is that Kadima has been weakened by the episode. Two months ago, polls showed Kadima stood to lose two-thirds of its Knesset seats in new elections. Government opponents harshly criticized Mofaz when he then decided to hitch his centrist party to Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party.

“Unfortunately, everything I warned about two months ago and everything I expected to happen, happened,” said Haim Ramon, a Knesset member who quit Kadima when Mofaz joined the government. “Netanyahu’s allies are the Charedim and the settlers. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding himself and the public. This move has brought on Kadima’s demise, and Shaul Mofaz is the one accountable,” Ramon said, according to Ynet.

If new elections were held today, Kadima likely would implode, with the biggest chunk of its seats going to Likud (Kadima originally was created as an offshoot of Likud) and others to a new centrist party, Yesh Atid, or to left-wing parties.

On July 17, Yesh Atid’s chairman, Yair Lapid, called for Netanyahu to declare new elections immediately.

“We are ready for elections, and it’s time to rid Israel of this bad government,” Lapid said, according to Ynet.

For now, analysts are predicting that Netanyahu will call for new elections in early 2013.

Snail mail or e-mail: How will your next invitation be sent?


My bat mitzvah invitation had bright purple embossed text on a hot pink card with my name enlarged in decorative script at the top and daisies adorning the bottom.

Twenty-plus years later, I remember eagerly waiting for my friends to receive the invitations and running home weeks later to check the mailbox for the return of the RSVP envelopes. Secured in a scrapbook, the invitation is a treasured memento.

Today, however, a rising trend in simcha invites may be changing the run to the mailbox into a dash for the e-mail inbox and the card stock mementos into computer printouts.

No longer for holiday parties and happy hours only, electronic invitations are becoming an acceptable way for some to announce major lifecycle events, including b’nai mitzvah celebrations and weddings.

When Jason Horowitz, a marketing executive in New York, and his partner, Carl, were planning their February wedding, electronic invitations became the solution for one major concern: They were short on time.

With more than 200 invitations to send, the couple didn’t want to sacrifice style for haste.

Paperless Post, a Web site launched by a 20-something brother-and-sister team in 2008, was the perfect answer, said Horowitz, 41.

“The wedding was very much planned last minute, but we still wanted to give guests 30 days to RSVP,” he said. Horowitz added that using electronic invitations “saved money and it’s environmentally friendly.”

Paperless Post invitations are sent by e-mail (or through a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter) with an image of an envelope appearing on screen. The guest’s name can be written on the outside of the envelope in a typeset of your choice, and the inside can include a lining to give the computer image a paper look.

The invitation itself can be designed with the assistance of graphic designers or selected from existing templates.

Having received similar invitations from friends for less-formal occasions, Horowitz said, “I loved the concept and thought the aesthetics were much better than Evite.”

Unlike Evite, Paperless Post invitations are not free, but there are also no pop-up ads. 

Margery Klausner, an attorney in Southfield, Mich., used an electronic invitation as a follow-up to the paper invitation for her son Nathan’s June bar mitzvah. Klausner, 41, used the image of the paper invitation for the electronic version.

While all local guests and family members received both the paper and electronic invitations, she exclusively sent electronic invitations to guests whom she “wanted to include but wasn’t 100 percent sure that they could come, like those [living] in Israel.”

Dealing with different postage rates and delivery time, she said, was another factor in opting for an electronic invitation.

One of the main advantages to using the electronic invitations was the quick arrival of the responses, Klausner said.

Two hours after hitting the send button on her computer, “I received 57 RSVPs,” she said. Additionally, Klausner was able to track the guests who didn’t open the e-mail and contact them directly to find out if there was a problem.

“It was beyond awesome,” she said. “It’s really impressive.”

Since Paperless Post launched, co-founder James Hirschfeld said, more than 10,000 b’nai mitzvah and 40,000 wedding invitations have been sent over the site. 

Calligraphers and engravers shouldn’t worry too much, however. Traditional paper invitations are still very much in vogue, said Wendy Katzen, a Washington-area event planner. 

She said that of the dozen or so weddings and b’nai mitzvah celebrations she plans for clients each year, “not one” has opted for an electronic invitation.

For Melissa Kanter, 49, the paper invitations for the December b’not mitzvah of her twin daughters, Emily and Rachel, will “set the tone for the affair.”

“It’s an accessory, like the bracelet to the outfit. It pulls the whole thing together,” said Kanter, an occupational therapist in Short Hills, N.J.

The invitation will reflect the personalities of her daughters, said Kanter, who worked with a graphic designer. 

The RSVPs will be with a response card — not directed to an e-mail address — and she’ll create a special postage stamp for the invitations and cards. 

After the affair, the invitation will be framed in a shadow box and used to make gifts for the girls — jewelry boxes and pillows.

“I’d rather have the tradition” of a paper invitation, Kanter said. “It will be a keepsake that I’ll put in their baby book.”

Katzen says that in planning a lifecycle event, it’s important to keep in mind that guest lists are often multigenerational and you want to take care not to insult anyone.

“There are still [people] who think a BlackBerry is a fruit,” she said. “You want to keep those guests in the loop, too.”

That wasn’t an issue for Horowitz — even his guests in their 80s had e-mail addresses. 

Days before the wedding, he sent a message through the site clarifying the start time of the ceremony. The flexibility of an electronic invitation made it much easier, he said, “Otherwise I would have had to make a hundred phone calls.”

With a guest list of more than 1,500, Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, 48, also went the electronic route for son Noah’s bar mitzvah last December after it was suggested by another mother.

“It was brilliant and made it possible,” said Steinlauf, whose husband, Gil, is the rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington.

The entire congregation was invited to the bar mitzvah and subsequent Kiddush lunch. 

The Steinlaufs also went the electronic route for a separate Friday-night dinner for family members and a party on Saturday evening for children.

“Can you imagine sending out 1,500 paper invitations?” Steinlauf asked. “It saved a fortune and saved many trees. There’s no question, I can’t imagine another way to have done this.”

What happens to a Hebrew-School dropout?


My 11-year-old son, Ari, is now a Hebrew-school dropout.

I am aware that that’s the name of a comedy act and a line of T-shirts. But, for me, the phrase is not a punch line, but a punch in the gut.

I imagine my response was just like parents whose kids drop out of high school: disbelief, sadness and helplessness followed quickly by a healthy dose of Jewish guilt. “Where did I go wrong?” “What did I do to cause him to reject my contribution to his heritage?”

I realize the situations aren’t exactly comparable. My son, Ari, won’t face difficulties getting into college or landing a good job—at least as a result of this decision. He won’t be walking the streets of New York stopping strangers and saying, “Dude, can you spare a kippah so I can cover my head in synagogue?” On the flip side, there’s no GED equivalent for the bar mitzvah (though an adult bar mitzvah is an option).

My goals for the after-school Hebrew-school program were modest: I knew he wouldn’t become a Judaic scholar, conversant in Jewish history or fluent in Hebrew. I just hoped he’d have fun being Jewish, make a couple of friends in the tribe, and possibly gain enough of a sense of Judaism that he could accept it—or reject it—with some knowledge base.

I suppose I could force Ari to go to Hebrew school. But I worry that it would backfire, that he would end up resenting his Jewish heritage.

When I was growing up, my household changed when my mother married her second husband. My mother was agnostic, her new hubby Orthodox, which made for an interesting combination. The family that had been only loosely affiliated with Judaism started to keep kosher and attend synagogue weekly. And my sister and I ended up at a Jewish high school. I felt like I was being force-fed Judaism as a result of my mother’s second marriage—and it gave me heartburn.

Of course, the effort backfired the minute I moved out of my mother’s house. While I retained a strong sense of Jewish identity, you would never know it if you watched my behavior when I was in college and my early 20s. I avoided synagogue and any Jewish event where my grandparents weren’t in attendance. I ate on Yom Kippur, a traditional fast day, and enjoyed sandwiches during Passover, the week when most Jews eschew leavening. In my late 20s, I married a non-Jew and did not ask him to even consider converting. Although I did warn him that any kids I might have—purely theoretical, mind you—would be Jewish.

My sister has stayed away from all things Jewish. To the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t set foot in a synagogue in the past decade, aside from my daughter’s bat mitzvah. This year, when I invited her to our very low-key seder, she told me it was “too Jewish” for her and her non-Jewish husband.

Eventually, in my 30s, I came back to the fold, drop by drop. I added elements as the whim struck, taking a deli-line approach; I picked what was fun or meaningful. I ventured back to synagogue on the High Holy Days, then branched into very occasional Friday night services. My then-husband and I took a trip to Israel and upon our return, he began—of his own accord—the process of converting to Judaism. And once we had children, the process accelerated. The kids thought challah was yummy, so we started to eat it every Friday night. I liked the notion of celebrating freedom, so we had seders at Passover. Of course, we did it in our own style, sitting on the living room floor with bowls of leavening-free chili in our laps. 

Then my daughter, who has always identified herself strongly as Jewish, learned the Sabbath prayers at Tot Shabbat and asked that we say them—and provide grape juice—every Friday night. She’s still at it—and now lights the candles for Ari and me every Friday night.

Do I worry too much about Ari and Hebrew school? My daughter says yes; it is his life, she avers. I don’t disagree. It is his life—but I am his mom.

I want to send him into the world with a well-stocked box of life tools. That includes certain skills, such as the ability to tie shoes, use a pair of scissors, design and prepare an assortment of nutritious meals, balance a checkbook and, these days, safely traverse the Internet. It includes some basic habits, such as twice-daily tooth brushing, regular use of “please” and “thank you,” and proper tipping. I also want my children, my son, to have certain psychological tools, such as confidence, hobbies, a sense of humor, an ability to find joy in life—and a sense of who he is and where he comes from. I worry that Ari won’t have a clear sense of who he is and where he comes from as a Jew. It’s as though he’s missing the Phillips-head screwdriver in his toolbox.

What we do, the little steps that we take—or don’t take—every day contribute to our identity. Is Ari denying who he is? After all, renouncing religions is much simpler than “passing” for a different race; it is eminently doable and sadly common.

I’m not giving up on Ari. He will continue to have challah and grape juice every Friday night—and to watch his older sister light the candles. He will continue to celebrate freedom on Passover, throw sponges at the rabbi at the Purim carnival and seek forgiveness around the High Holy Days.

I know my kids are getting mixed messages about being Jewish since their father and I divorced. In my home, we celebrate the holidays, march in the Israel Day parade and generally identify ourselves as Hebes.

My kids say that they are often asked, “Are you half-Jewish?” I know that choosing Judaism means, at least to some extent, picking Mom over Dad—a position neither child (nor I, on most days) relishes.

Judaism is a journey, and everyone takes an individual path. My daughter is taking what seems like a pretty straight line thus far, sticking to the major highways. I took my own spiral approach to identifying as a Jew, pulling away and then cycling back. And Ari will take his own path, though I do worry that he’s wandered off into a field for a nap.

The good news is that he asked to attend the synagogue’s Purim carnival this year—and then put in a plug for a chocolate seder, negotiating the details with his acne-phobic older sister. I am hopeful that this means Ari will wake up from his Hebrew-school nap, grab his well-stocked toolbox, and make a life for himself that includes the joy and pride of being Jewish.


Beth Leibson is a New York-based writer and editor, and author of the book “I’m Too Young to Have Breast Cancer” (Lifeline, 2004).

Neo-Nazi party maintains strength in Greek elections


The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party defied predictions and won nearly 7 percent of the vote in the Greek national elections.

Polls and Greek commentators had predicted that support for the fascist party, which entered the Greek Parliament for the first time in inconclusive elections six weeks ago, would drop in Sunday’s election, saying the original vote was a protest against the established political parties held responsible for Greece’s economic crisis.

The conservative New Democracy Party, which supports Greece staying in the European Union and honoring its commitments under bailouts it received, won the most votes in results released Monday and likely will form the new government.

Golden Dawn, with its Nazi swastika-like flag and Holocaust-denying leader, picked up 6.92 percent of the vote, which will give the party 19 lawmakers in the 300-member parliament. The party had won 6.97 percent of the earlier vote.

“It shows we were all wrong and that this is the real percentage of people who support them with their anti-illegal immigrant policy and their Nazi style that they show the people,” David Saltiel, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, told JTA.

“It is a problem for Greek democracy, and we have to see how the parties will react. We hope they will isolate them.”

Golden Dawn had campaigned on an anti-austerity, anti-immigrant platform, preying on the fears of ordinary Greeks who have seen their neighborhoods overrun by the nearly 1 million immigrants who have flooded the country from Asia and Africa hoping to use it as a gateway to the European Union.

After the first election, Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos — who came to prominence when he won a seat on the Athens City Council in 2010 and celebrated by giving the Nazi salute at the first City Hall meeting — gave an interview in which he denied the existence of gas chambers at Nazi death camps.

Palestinian principal punished for Israeli beach party


A Palestinian principal was punished over a spontaneous beach party that emerged during a field trip in Israel.

Mohammad Abu Samra, 33, says he landed in hot water when video and images of his pupils dancing on a beach in Jaffa with bikini-clad women and Israeli beachgoers were sent to the Palestinian Ministry of Education.

The incident took place at the close of the Qalqilya Al Salam Secondary School’s 11th- and 12th-grade field trip to Jaffa beach led by Abu Samra, reportedly the youngest principal in the history of the Palestinian Authority, according to the Dubai-based Al Nisr Gulf News.

According to Abu Samra, an Israeli DJ began setting up on the beach as he attempted to load the buses to leave before their day permits expired.

“My pupils started dancing, and I also joined them at the beginning to let them have fun,” Abu Samra told the news agency.

“Volunteers shot a video and took a couple of still photos and forwarded them to the Palestinian Ministry of Education, with a complaint that the incident would imply that there was normalization of ties with Israel and it exposed the young generation of Palestinians to Israel’s illicit code of conduct,” he added.

Abu Samra was reassigned to a school about 30 miles away. Students reportedly have protested the education ministry’s actions.

The bachelor party grows up


There are many things that come to mind when the words “bachelor” and “party” are said in the same breath, and often the sum of this equation is not pretty.  Despite Hollywood’s depiction of this rite of passage as a final gasp of protracted adolescence (from the Tom Hanks camp classic “Bachelor Party” to the “Hangover” movies), there are men who are not interested in acting silly (or worse) for its own sake.

A variety of event planners are targeting grooms who want the time-honored tradition of transition into another stage of manhood to be, well, more mature. And men are increasingly opting for theme parties and weekend retreats, with activities that can be enriching rather than embarrassing.

Companies offer weekends built around fishing, formula auto-racing, dude ranches and culinary education where wine, beer and spirits are put to more sophisticated, refined use. In England, event company StagWeb even offers a getaway built around a James Bond theme.

As bachelor weekends and weeks are picking up steam, services like CruiseWise have sprung up that allow for maximum bonding with minimum planning. 

Steve Davis, co-founder of CruiseWise, says that while his clients don’t see marriage as the end of fun or a loss of freedom, that doesn’t mean they want to skip a celebration with their friends.

They have witnessed a “trend away from ‘traditional’ bachelor parties for some time now,” he said. “While there will always be 20-somethings who want to do the traditional movie-style bachelor party, there are many more who would call that a nightmare, not a celebration.”

Obvious benefits of all-inclusive cruising include no need for a cab or designated driver, mix-and-match activity menus and easily customized itineraries to accommodate the different personalities that make up the groom’s entourage.

Thanks to the newly opened Beverly Hills flagship of Art of Shaving, grooms without the luxury of time can still put together a pre-wedding day celebration that is all about luxury, pampering and putting one’s best face forward.

Amber Loose, the store’s general manager, notes the location and the concept are particularly popular for older grooms as well as businessmen whose lifestyle may not allow getaways aside from the honeymoon. However, thanks to the distinctive ambience (mansion library/den-meets-men’s spa), the Art of Shaving alternative promises something more grown-up than a night in Vegas and more memorable than a steakhouse dinner.

“We don’t call it a bachelor party,” Loose said. “We see it as more of a sophisticated, pre-wedding gathering that’s particularly appealing to anybody who has outgrown strip clubs and pub crawls.”

When a gathering is booked with Art of Shaving, Loose says, she closes off the store to the public so guests have undisturbed access to eight barber chairs for shaves and haircuts, plus two manicure/pedicure stations.

“Brides, meanwhile, have the luxury of knowing their men are literally in good hands and will look fantastic on the big day,” Loose said.

Art of Shaving’s party planning service include customized wine and beverage services, hors d’oeuvres, music of choice and a photographer to capture the transformational magic. If bosses and co-workers are going to be a part of the wedding party, this kind of gathering will be sure to make a lasting positive impression.

Story continues after the jump

Art of Shaving in Beverly Hills offers a sophisticated alternative to the raucous bachelor party.

Although popular variations on the sports weekends include baseball fantasy camps, golf resorts and camping, a fitness retreat week can both enlighten and entertain, according to Omari Bernard, one of the lead coaches at Playa del Rey’s Live-In Fitness Enterprise (LIFE).

“When you think about it, getting drunk, behaving badly and feeling awful the next day is not how you want to start the next major chapter of your life,” he said. “However, this experience goes beyond just shaping up so you look great in your tux.”

LIFE emphasizes the team aspect of fitness and coaching. All activities, which integrate a variety of favorite sports (such as hikes, boxing, martial arts and basketball), involve team-building exercises that will help the groom and those closest to him with interpersonal relationships and challenges. 

Story continues after the jump

A Live-In Fitness Enterprise coach trains one-on-one with a client.

The groom, family and friends also learn good eating and exercise habits that can keep married life, and life in general, exciting and active, Bernard says.

“Everything we do is quantitative, and when the party leaves after a week, they don’t just take away a better body and some workouts to do at home. The groom brings practical information on staying healthy and fit into his marriage,” Bernard said.

What’s the best way to sum up the new wave of groomsman’s gatherings? Party on, but do it with intelligence and self-respect.

Netanyahu to seek early election in 4 months


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he supported an early general election in four months’ time, a ballot polls say could strengthen his hand as Israel confronts Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“It is preferable to have a short election campaign of four months that will swiftly return stability to the political ranks,” Netanyahu said in a speech to a convention of his rightist Likud party.

The next national vote was not due until October 2013, but new legislation that might force ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the military and an upcoming budget debate have threatened to unravel a governing coalition of religious and nationalist parties once seen as one of the most stable in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu said he wanted to avoid pressure from coalition partners who were beginning to destabilize the government. He did not specify a date, but a party official earlier said September 4 was the probable date for the ballot.

“With the start of the government’s fourth year we have seen many signs that the stability has begun to waver and political instability always brings extortion (and) populism which harm security, the economy and society. I will not allow a campaign of a year and a half that will harm the country,” Netanyahu said.

A Netanyahu victory two months before the U.S. election would give him leverage over Barack Obama on the Iranian and Palestinian issues while the U.S. president is still engaged in his own campaign and wary of alienating pro-Israeli voters.

Netanyahu and Obama have had a thorny relationship and the right-wing Israeli leader has come under pressure from Washington not to take unilateral military action against Iranian nuclear facilities suspected of being part of a project to produce nuclear weapons.

Iran says its nuclear program is purely civilian. Israel is believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power.

Opinion polls show Likud will easily come out on top of the national ballot, giving Netanyahu a renewed mandate to tackle what he has described as the most important challenge facing his country – the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Parliament was due to convene on Monday and vote on a coalition-backed resolution of dissolution. Netanyahu and his government would remain in office until a new administration is sworn in after the election in four months’ time.

Israeli leaders have insisted the election campaign would have no impact on their decision-making on Iran.

“Netanyahu does not hide his intention to strike Tehran’s nuclear sites before they become immune to attack,” commentator Ron Ben-Yishai, referring to Iranian efforts to put its atomic facilities deep underground, wrote in Israel’s popular Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

“Hence, his decision to call early elections when his position on this issue is so clear and consistent shows confidence that Israel’s public is behind him, thereby granting more credibility to the Israeli threat,” he wrote.

Netanyahu has been urged by Washington and other world powers to allow beefed-up international sanctions on Iran to bite. He has voiced pessimism about the outcome of international nuclear talks with Iran due to resume in Baghdad on May 23.

While opinion polls have shown strong support for Netanyahu’s leadership, they have also indicated a wide majority of Israelis either oppose an Israeli strike on Iran or would favor an attack only if it were carried out with U.S. agreement.

Some former Israeli security chiefs have criticized Netanyahu’s hawkish stance. His former internal security chief, Yuval Diskin, accused both him and Defence Minister Ehud Barak of having a “messianic” policy toward Iran.

On Friday, Barak said Iran’s nuclear strategy could eventually allow it to build an atomic bomb with just 60 days’ notice. The remarks elaborated on long-held Israeli concerns that Tehran is playing for time as it engages in negotiations aimed at curbing its uranium enrichment.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis; editing by Andrew Roche

Mofaz beats Livni for Kadima leadership


Shaul Mofaz decisively defeated Tzipi Livni to become the new leader of Israel’s Kadima Party.

Mofaz received 62 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Kadima primary to unseat Livni as the leader of Israel’s main opposition party. Forty-five percent of the party’s 95,000 registered members voted in the primary.

The Iranian-born Mofaz is a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Mofaz and Livni, who both were members of the right-wing Likud Party before joining Kadima, have been fierce rivals for the past several years. In 2008 Livni narrowly beat Mofaz to become Kadima’s leader. Previous party heads were founder Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

In a late-night victory speech, Mofaz called on Livni to remain in the party, saying “Tzipi, your place is with us.”

Recent polls suggested that Kadima, which has 28 seats in the current Knesset, likely will see its support plunge dramatically in the next elections. That would be the case, the polls noted, regardless of whether Mofaz or Livni was the party’s leader.

British peer quits party post after anti-Israel comment


British peer Jenny Tonge resigned as party whip of the Liberal Democrats after saying that Israel would not survive for long in its present form.

Tonge’s remarks, made at a meeting last week at Middlesex University, included the observation that the American people would soon “get sick” of the billions their government sends annually “to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East—that is Israel.” Party leader Nick Clegg called on Tonge to apologize, but Tonge refused and resigned instead, the Guardian reported.

“The comments I made have been taken completely out of context,” Tonge said. “They followed a very ill-tempered meeting in which Zionist campaigners attempted continually to disrupt proceedings. They mouthed obscenities at the panelists, to the extent that university security attempted to remove them from the premises.”

Tonge has a well-known history of making inflammatory comments about Israel. In 2004, as a member of Parliament, she was fired as the children’s spokeswomen of the Liberal Democrats after she said she might consider becoming a suicide bomber if she were forced to endure the same conditions as Palestinians.

In 2006, she said, “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the Western world, its financial grips.” That comment also was condemned by the party leadership.

Tonge’s most recent remarks were first disclosed by the Guido Fawkes website and rapidly condemned across the British political spectrum. Clegg said they were “wrong and offensive.” John Woodcock, a Labour parliamentarian, called them “outrageous” and urged Clegg to take disciplinary action.

France opens investigation into Nazi-themed party


French authorities have opened an investigation into a Nazi-themed party that led to the firing of a British lawmaker who attended.

Aiden Burley, 32, a Conservative member of Britain’s House of Commons, was dismissed in December, a week after photos of his presence at the stag party at a French ski resort came to light. At least one party participant dressed up in an SS officer’s uniform, and the guests toasted to the Nazi Party and the Third Reich.

It is illegal in France to wear or exhibit in public Nazi-era memorabilia or copies of such memorabilia.

Burley and 12 other guests could face charges in France of defending war crimes or crimes against humanity and inciting racial hatred. They could face six months in prison and large fines.

Burley apologized following the incident with an “unreserved, wholehearted and fulsome apology” in a letter to the London-based Jewish Chronicle newspaper.

Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a full investigation into the incident following reports that Burley had been responsible for ordering the SS uniform costumes. Cameron dismissed Burley from his post as a parliamentary aide to the transport secretary.

Libertarianism rings deep and true


The strong presence of Ron Paul, the Republican congressman from Texas, in the GOP campaign — and his respectable third-place finish in Iowa — is bringing attention to the often-ignored libertarian strain in American politics. It is an outlook that challenges the dogmas of both left and right, and taps into an essential part of the national psyche.

Paul, who ran for president on the Libertarian ticket in 1988, espouses views that often put him at odds with fellow Republicans as well as Democrats. While he strongly opposes the welfare state and government intervention in the economy, he’s an equally vocal critic of government infringements on individual rights in the name of national security or traditional morality. He has assailed the War on Terror and the War on Drugs. While not endorsing same-sex marriage, he has argued that all voluntary associations should be legally protected and that, ideally, the state should get out of the marriage business and leave it to religious congregations.

The fortunes of Paul’s candidacy are complicated by his deeply troubling personal baggage of bigoted newsletters to which he lent his name two decades ago. Even without that, it’s unlikely that he could win the Republican nomination — let alone the White House. Yet the level of his support — he raised $13 million in the last quarter of 2011 and placed first in several polls — points to the enduring appeal of pro-liberty ideas. It is one of many such signs.

The Tea Party movement, which has changed America’s political landscape in the last three years, coalesced around opposition to big government. Despite its linkage to political conservatism, it has focused on small government and constitutional freedoms, not traditionally conservative social issues.

Meanwhile, sales of “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel in which entrepreneurs in a quasi-socialist future rebel against a parasitic state — the closest there is to a libertarian classic — have skyrocketed.

Libertarian sympathies have deep roots in America’s individualist culture. In a recent poll in the Pew Global Attitudes Project, Americans tended to agree — by an almost 2-to-1 ratio — that freedom to pursue one’s goals without state interference was more important than having the state guarantee that no one is in need.

Does that mean we have a libertarian majority? Not quite. People who believe freedom is more important than a safety net may still favor a far more extensive safety net than true libertarians consider appropriate.

Even Tea Party supporters, polls show, are more likely to support higher taxes on the rich than cuts to Social Security and Medicare; they’re also more likely to be conservative than libertarian on social issues and civil liberties, often opposing equal rights for same-sex couples and supporting state powers of surveillance over terror suspects. Americans in general are deeply conflicted on issues of liberty versus active government — whether it comes to economic intervention, social programs or national security. Various polls estimate that people with broadly libertarian views (socially liberal and fiscally conservative) make up 15 percent to 25 percent of the public.

In its pure form, libertarianism — like other purist ideologies — has an element of utopianism that ignores the messy complexities of real life. Such problems as race discrimination, environmental protection, health care access or decent living standards for the elderly and the disabled may have no free-market solutions, requiring collective action and investment. A radical reduction of the United States’ foreign commitments, advocated by Paul and many other libertarians, may be impossible in today’s globalized world.

Nonetheless, the libertarian challenge to the authoritarian tendencies of both the left and the right is an important addition to our political discourse. Libertarians are the only group that consistently defends individual choice — a voice we neglect at our peril.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe. She is the author of “Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood.”

British lawmaker loses post over Nazi-themed party


A British lawmaker was fired from his job working for a senior Conservative Party minister after attending a Nazi-themed party.

Aiden Burley, 32, a parliamentary private secretary for Transport Secretary Justine Greening, was dismissed on Dec. 19, a week after photos of his presence at the stag party at a French ski resort came to light. At least one party participant dressed up in an SS officer’s uniform, and the guests toasted to the Nazi Party and the Third Reich.

Prime Minister David Cameron on Dec. 19 ordered a full investigation into the incident following reports that Burley had been responsible for ordering the SS uniform costumes.

It is illegal in France to wear or exhibit in public Nazi-era memorabilia or copies of such memorabilia.

Burley apologized for the incident with an “unreserved, wholehearted and fulsome apology” in a letter to the London-based Jewish Chronicle newspaper.

“On reflection, I wish I had left as soon as I had realized what was happening,” he wrote. “What was happening was wrong and I should have completely dissociated myself from it. I had a choice, and I made the wrong choice NOT to leave. I apologize for this error of judgment.”

Burley was elected to the House of Commons as a member of Parliament for Cannock Chase in 2010.

Netanyahu moves up party primary


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that he is moving up the date of Likud Party primaries.

With his announcement Monday, Netanyahu apparently is showing that he believes he is in a strong position in the party and would more easily be able to win re-election as party leader.

The date for the Likud poll is set for Jan. 31, which is the same day as the party’s vote for a new Central Committee. Combining the elections will save the party more than $1 million, according to reports.

Netanyahu’s main rival for the position, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, said he would take legal action against the initiative, Ynet reported.

The party’s internal elections must be held at least six months ahead of national Knesset elections, which are scheduled for 2013.

Can Labor’s new leader Shelly Yachimovich revive the party?


The Israeli Labor Party’s new leader, Shelly Yachimovich, makes a grand entrance at the annual Rosh Hashanah toast for party activists.

Well over an hour after the guests begin munching on puff pastries, she is greeted like a conquering hero as she wades into the crowd wearing black jeans and sandals. Everyone wants to shake her hand, hug her, kiss her.

Yachimovich ascends the makeshift dais and waits as each of Labor’s Knesset members makes a brief speech offering good wishes for the New Year. The speakers include former Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whom she had edged for the party leadership in primaries last month.

In her remarks, Yachimovich concentrates on socioeconomic issues—her signature focus and, analysts say, the reason she won the Labor primaries after a summer of socioeconomic discontent in Israel.

“What is Netanyahu’s solution to the high cost of living?” she asks the enthusiastic crowd, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “To open the Israeli markets, to destroy Israeli industry, to cause thousands of workers to lose their jobs. Not in our party! Not in our party!”

The crowd applauds.

“We are the only ones on the political map who can present a real, deep, social democratic alternative to the capitalistic extremism that Netanyahu has championed,” she says.

Yachimovich, 51, has been in the Knesset for six years. Before that she was a well-known journalist, first on Israel Radio and then on Channel 2. She also wrote two novels.

In contrast to most Israeli political leaders, who emphasize security issues, Yachimovich has focused on social justice causes. She initiated laws requiring employers to provide chairs for their cashiers, favoring Israeli factories and companies over foreign ones, and extending maternity leave to 14 weeks.

Her reputation for social causes worked in her favor following a summer that saw hundreds of thousands of Israelis take to the streets for protests focusing on socioeconomic issues.

Yachimovich’s candidacy succeeded in attracting thousands of young voters to Labor, which had become known in Israel as the “alter kockers party” – Yiddish for “old folks.”

The election last month seems to have breathed new life into the Labor Party, which had been Israel’s dominant party for its first three decades but has faltered greatly over the last 10 years. In the 2009 elections, Labor suffered a crushing defeat, winning just 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and falling to No. 4 in size among Israel’s political parties.

Another blow came earlier this year when Defense Minister Ehud Barak split off to form a new party called Atzmaut. He took four Knesset members with him.

Labor activists hope Yachimovich can unite the party and make it a renewed force in Israeli politics.

“Labor must rebuild itself with the goal of leading the social camp and the peace camp,” former Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna told JTA. “These days, when ‘peace’ is a bad word, we have to rebuild hope. Only a combination of peace and social justice can create a new reality.”

Yachimovich is only the second woman to lead Israel’s Labor Party; the first was Prime Minister Golda Meir. The Knesset’s largest party, Kadima, also is led by a woman, Tzipi Livni, while another woman, Zahava Gal-On, is competing to lead the leftist Meretz Party.

“I think she did an excellent job as a parliamentarian,” said Labor Party activist Eli Aloni. “She doesn’t have enough experience in foreign policy, but she’s a smart woman. She’ll learn.”

Media reports frequently describe Yachimovich as having a cold personality, and she has come under particular fire from a former colleague at Channel 2, Nehemia Shtrasler.

Despite being a former journalist, Yachimovich often rebuffs the press. She declined an interview with JTA, and Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman said she cut off an interview with him after 90 seconds.

Labor still has a long way to go before it returns to its former glory. Recent surveys found that if elections were held today, Labor would win 22 seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset, passing both Kadima and Yisrael Beitenu but still trailing the Likud.

Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dances into the new year


Aish brings together rhythm, beats and davening for their Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dancing spectacle that parodies LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem.  Here’s the chorus from the lyrics, but be sure to watch the video for the full effect.

Rosh Hashanah’s in the house tonight
All the world is passing through the light
Let’s all get written in the book of Life
Shana Tova—it’s High Holiday time

 

For young European Jews, a week of unity, partying and romance


It’s called Summer U, but most of the more than 500 young Jews who attend the European Union of Jewish Students’ largest annual event don’t come for the seminars.

Packed three and four to a room in two boxy white hotels in this speck of a beach town on northeastern Greece’s Chalkidiki peninsula, participants juggle workshops, speakers and the most popular option—straying from the program and heading to the beach.

Attendees bond over cocktails and nightly theme parties. Relationships blossom and, by week’s end, phone numbers have been exchanged, Facebook photos tagged and reunion plans made.

For a Jewish Europe grappling with the challenges of assimilation and intermarriage, Summer U is a success story. It is known for producing more than a few marriages over the years.

“We have to be honest: If we don’t want to disappear, we need to get married together,” said Deborah Abisror, the executive director of EUJS. “And it’s just crazy—it works for that.”

Deborah Teboul of Marseilles, in southern France, admits she came to Summer U with a specific goal in mind.

“I won’t lie to you—I wanted new friends and maybe the opportunity to meet some guy,” she said, smiling. “When you’re my age, you can’t meet Jewish people unless you go the synagogue every Saturday. It’s not easy.”

At a salsa class early in the Summer U week, Teboul danced with a Swiss man—a fellow participant she says she’s now “in a sort of relationship with.”

Stories like hers are standard fare at Summer U, which ran from Aug. 28 to Sept. 4 and draws Jews aged 18 to 35. The event, sometimes more formally referred to as Summer University, has been around since 1984.

Abisror, who is from France, said the true focus of EUJS is on smaller events—like a 50-person interfaith delegation she led to Morocco last year.

EUJS, however, has come to depend on the infusion of funding and the raucous enthusiasm provided by Summer U. And the larger Jewish world is taking notice: The gathering receives financial support from a host of international Jewish organizations.

In past years, the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, has shown up to address the gathering. This year the AJC sent two representatives in their early 20s to lead a pair of workshops and stay for the full week.

Harris’ assistant, Ellisa Sagor, said the experience of attending the conference offers “a fuller picture of what European Jewry looks like today.”

“They don’t look afraid. They don’t look timid,” she said. “They’re happy, they’re spirited, they’re vibrant and they’re outwardly proud Jews.”

Sagor noted the value of allowing friendships and connections to develop over the course of eight days. Indeed, at last year’s Summer U, another young attendee from the AJC met her now fiance, a Colombian Jew.

Yet for all of Summer U’s success as a social event, the festive elements can overshadow the more serious components. The nightly parties with themes such as Facebook and “red carpet”—each with its own corresponding dress code—were packed, while most workshops drew crowds of about 30 at most.

After all, it’s not easy for a PowerPoint presentation on the American Jewish community’s response to the Palestinian statehood push to compete with beach volleyball.

“Of course it’s a lot of people partying. What do you want from a mass of Jewish students?” said Andrea Gergely, who was elected at the conference to be the next president of EUJS.

Still, Gergely, who lives in Budapest and will start her term in January, says she is looking to diversify the seminars and add arts and crafts, yoga and sports tournaments to the event’s schedule.

Gergely hopes that a wider array of programming will appeal to Summer U participants, some of whom may be looking for a middle ground between lectures and the beach.

Participants, for the most part, seem pretty happy with Summer U as an opportunity to socialize.

“Jewish marriage and friendship is one of the unofficial goals of any Jewish organization,” said Aleksey Krasnitsky, a project manager with the Ukrainian Union of Jewish Students and Kiev resident who has been coming to Summer U for the past six years. “I’d be very happy if after Summer U we get the news of a Jewish marriage—that’s the most important thing, in my point of view.”

In interviews about the conference, participants often would begin by discussing Summer U’s seminars and speakers, move on to speak about the importance of pan-European Jewish friendship and then lower their voices, almost conspiratorially, to discuss the relationships they came here to find.

For Stephen Przyrowski, a Parisian attending his third Summer U, the emphasis that many participants place on romance can be a little stressful.

“You can see they put pressure on themselves, a lot of the men, especially,” he said. “They’re searching too hard for their soulmate.”

Illan Obadia, a Parisian information technology and finance consultant who was attending his first Summer U, said he was not looking for a one-night stand.

“During the nights, several couples are created, and by the morning they are finished,” he said with a wry laugh. “If I can find a woman for my life, yes, but for one night? No.”

Still, Obadia is no cynic when it comes to Summer U.

At the entrance to the main hotel, the event’s “animation team”—a sort of Summer U motivation squad—had posted several blank white sheets with the instructions “Make a wish—we will make it happen!”

Writing in big block letters across several pieces of paper, Obadia asked the organizers to develop a Winter U, an Autumn U and a Spring U.

Tel Aviv named a top party spot


Tel Aviv is one of the world’s top 10 summer party destinations, according to a popular travel website.

HotelsCombined.com, one of the world’s largest online travel sites, named Tel Aviv to its 2011 list of cities where the summer fun never lets up.

The “city that never stops” is “home to some of the hottest nightclubs in the Middle East,” the review raves. It boasts a “steamy nocturnal playground” that is “not for the faint of heart.”

Israel’s showcase on the Mediterranean comes ninth on the site’s list, behind Ibiza, Berlin, London, New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Amsterdam and the Greek isle of Ios, and just ahead of Reykjavik.

With 22 hours of daylight in the summer, the Icelandic capital – “famous for its music scene and crazy Friday night pub crawls known as runtur” – might seem to have a built-in advantage.

Tel Aviv can add this most recent accolade to its No. 3 spot on Lonely Planet’s list of 10 top travel destinations for 2011, just behind New York and Tangiers.

Take Me Out to the Bar Mitzvah…


Roger Owens has been pitching with the Dodgers for 50 years, ever since the team moved from Brooklyn. His accuracy is uncanny, and he remains a crowd favorite. He throws under the leg, behind the back and even two at a time, sometimes more than 30 rows back.

Owens, also known as the “Peanut Man,” started tossing peanut bags at Dodger games when the team began playing at the Coliseum in 1958. And Owens, who knows more than his fair share of nutty jokes, also makes a good side income making guest appearances at various bar and (sometimes) bat mitzvah celebrations.

“Everyone wants to do something different,” he said. “They want to reward their son for all the hard work, studies and learning about his Jewish heritage and his grades at school.”

With baseball’s season opener less than a month away, it doesn’t take much to organize a grand-slam celebration that reflects your child’s love of the game.

The idea of a blockbuster bar mitzvah celebration at Dodger Stadium was played for laughs in the 2006 film comedy, “Keeping Up With the Steins,” complete with Neil Diamond booked to sing the national anthem. But there are ways to put on a baseball theme that won’t break parents, which can include a day at the stadium, complete with hot dogs, ticket booths, an organ playing “Charge!” and appearances by former baseball greats.

Locations

Renting space at either Dodger Stadium or Angel Stadium is not as expensive as one might expect. The Stadium Club or Dugout Club at Chavez Ravine can be had for just $650, said Jill DeStefano, partnership management executive with the Dodgers. However, costs for food or beverages are separate, and prices can range from $35 to $100 per person.

Renting out the field is also an option, albeit a much more expensive one, she added.

Angel Stadium’s Diamond Club, Knothole Club, Homeplate Club and Music Garden in Anaheim cost nothing to rent, according to Ron Lee, division manager of premium services. Once again, the cost comes from food and beverages, plus security. Aramark, the professional services company in charge at Angel Stadium, also allows clients to rent the field at a minimum of $25,000.

Still, the teams are accommodating — as long as the celebration isn’t on a scheduled home game or in October (“It’s empty because we want to be in the World Series,” DeStefano said). May and November are popular months at Dodger Stadium, but the baseball season is tricky, because the team doesn’t know its playing schedule until the year before.

Julia Erling, an Aramark catering sales specialist, said November through March work best at Angel Stadium, but annual Motocross events eliminate renting the outfield in January and February.

But if everything works out and the stadiums are available, “The sky’s the limit,” DeStefano and Lee said.

In Los Angeles, one can pay for batting practice, either on the field or in the indoor batting cage, or pitch in the bullpen, complete with radar gun. Both parks can have videos playing on the giant outfield screens and have DJs hook up their equipment to the stadium sound systems.

Food

Andrew Atwell, Aramark’s West Coast senior executive chef, said all options are available: plated food, buffet or “action stations,” in which the cooks interact with the guests. “It’s all in the presentation,” he said.

Action stations could be anything, Atwell said: fish, salad, a carving station or dessert featuring crème brulee. To keep with the theme, hamburgers could become sliders, complete with condiment bar with different cheeses, lettuces and grilled onions. Hot dogs could have onions, sauerkraut, horseradish, cheese, peppers or salsa.

If guests specifically wanted kosher food brought to Angel Stadium, Atwell said Aramark would contract with kosher caterers and have the food brought.

Levy Restaurants, which provides catering at Dodger Stadium, has used Kosher on Wheels for its kosher catering needs.

Special Guests

After he’s introduced as a surprise guest during the celebration, Owens, the Peanut Man, walks out wearing his own uniform, carrying a box filled with plenty of bagged peanuts to toss. He then makes a two- or three-minute speech during which he tells the guests about how great it is to be at the party, recites what school the honoree attends and areas in which he or she excels (baseball, usually) and how proud the parents must be. He’ll crack some peanut jokes, then stick around and sign autographs.

DeStefano said former Dodgers, such as Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and “Sweet Lou” Johnson, have made appearances, “but they’re more for the adults.” Getting current Dodgers (Russell Martin is a popular request) is more difficult, because the team might be on the road or the player might not live in Los Angeles during the off-season.

Erling said stadium tours are offered, and former Angels pitcher Clyde Wright (1966-73) might be the tour guide. Player appearances are subject to availability, but expect to pay at least $5,000 for a current player and $1,500 for a former player.

Theme Touches

If a stadium party is out of reach, event planners suggest leaving details for a baseball-themed party up to the imagination. Ticket booths, seating assignments that resemble ballpark tickets, table centerpieces that look like baseballs or include team names and logos are common.

Paula Gild of Gilded Events suggests costumed performers dressed as concessionaires bringing out the hot dogs, popcorn, Cracker Jacks and other stadium-type foods.

For more information, visit:
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Roger Owens

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Dec. 27- Jan. 2: Hot Rod Chanukah, Moroccan New Years Eve


SAT | DECEMBER 27

(CHANUKAH BASH)
The week has been loaded with holiday merrymaking, but if you’ve got a drop of energy left, you’ll want to make it last all night long at the Hot Rod Chanukah Party hosted by The Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership Division and Birthright ” target=”_blank”>http://www.birthrightisrael.com. Non-alumni may buy tickets at ibakal@alpertjcc.org. circle@circlesocal.org. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jclla.org.

(CHANUKAH)
Nope, the Chanukah celebrations aren’t over yet. That’s one of the great things about being Jewish, isn’t it? Instead of one night of merriment, the parties just go on and on and on… Jumping right in is the Israel division of The Jewish Federation/ Valley Alliance, which is throwing its own holiday family festival complete with a magician, festive singing, a menorah-lighting ceremony, and — old magazines? Actually, attendees are asked to bring some along to turn them into a menorah. Not to worry, there will be expert magazine-menorah-makers on hand to help with the project. Sun. 4:30-6:30 p.m. Free. The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3206. sbjts@cox.net.

(WOMEN)
JConnect is no stranger to bringing L.A.’s Jewish community together, but this gathering is for women only. As part of their monthly women’s gathering series, guest speaker Tova Hinda Siegel will be discussing “A Light Unto Our Nation: Are WE Women the Guiding Light?” Siegel, a certified midwife and very active in the city’s Jewish community, is in a unique position to discuss women and their relationship to Israel. The conversation will take place over a kosher potluck brunch, so make sure to bring along your favorite dish. Sun. 11:45 a.m. Only cost is your contribution to the potluck. JConnectLA, 1801 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 322, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P to Michal@JConnectLA.com for the exact address of the event. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Fuel in Studio City into a Moroccan-style lair of rich tapestries, lush cushions and sensuous belly dancers. The feast will not be limited to just your eyes: There will also be a decadent kosher Moroccan buffet by Bazilikum Caterers and Chef Sharon On, a free hookah patio with a variety of sweet flavors and a champagne toast at midnight. Sababa’s loyal DJ duo, Ziv and Titus, will be spinning ’70s, ’80s, hip-hop, dance, house and plenty of hip Israeli crowd-pleasers. Part of the proceeds from this relatively affordable NYE bash (a nod to the struggling economy) will be donated to Yad B’Yad, a nonprofit that provides services to abused children in Israel. 21 and over. Wed. 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. $48 (prepaid via PayPal), $58 (at the door). Club Fuel, 11608 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (310) 657-6650. ” target=”_blank”>http://geffenplayhouse.com; ” target=”_blank”>http://www.elportaltheatre.com.

FRI | JANUARY 2

(SHABBAT LECTURE)
Rabbi YY, as Yehuda Yonah Rubinstein is fondly known, is one of the most requested Jewish speakers in the United Kingdom. There, he is a regular broadcaster on national radio and television and was named one of the top five people in Britain to turn to for advice by the Independent newspaper. He has written innumerable essays and a couple of books, including “Dancing Through Time” and “That’s Life.” Jewish Learning Exchange is hosting this veteran public speaker and teacher with a gift for fusing Torah, modern-day challenges and humor at a special weekend starting tonight. Rubinstein will lead Melava Malka on Saturday night and speak on the subject of what Judaism says about dreams. Guests are asked to specify if they need sleeping accommodations and/or meals. Fri.-Sat. $36. Jewish Learning Exchange, 512 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. Call (323) 857-0923 or e-mail info@jlela.com to register and to receive a detailed schedule. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.tebh.org.

Pinched pocketbooks no bar to party planning


Pinched Pocketbooks NoBar to Party Planning

Have tough economic times forced you to scale back your child’s bar or bat mitzvah party plans? With your 401(k) down, is the ice sculpture out? Is your resetting ARM making you reconsider that 18-piece orchestra?

If so, you can still have one of the best bar or bat mitzvah parties ever.

Paul, who lives in the northern Sierras and preferred not to use his last name, was pleased with the modest bar mitzvah party he and his wife hosted last month for their son.

“We had a Kiddush at our little synagogue immediately after the bar mitzvah and a catered dinner for about 75 people at the lodge building at our town’s public park,” he said.

Paul spent about $40 per person, including food and “midrange” wines. After dinner, guests were invited back to the house, including many out-of-town relatives and friends, for more time to visit and socialize. The kids had their own fun, and music was provided via a Bose iPod dock.

This modest party wasn’t prompted as much by economic pressure as it was by being turned off by what Paul and his wife considered “large, garish bar and bat mitzvah parties” they had attended on which “embarrassing” amounts of money were spent.

“We frankly think it is shameful and a violation of both the tenets of Judaism and good taste to throw a huge and lavish bar or bat mitzvah party,” Paul said.

Paul’s hardly alone. When Rob Frankel and his wife planned their daughter’s bat mitzvah, they were so turned off by their synagogue’s onerous rules (including vetting the parents’ speeches) and insistence on using an expensive caterer, that later they did their son’s bar mitzvah totally on their own, from using a “rent-a-rabbi” to teach their son and provide a rental Torah scroll and bimah.

“The whole year’s training and day of service cost less than a year of temple membership dues,” Frankel recalled.

The Frankels also saved money by creating their own save-the-date postcards, invitations, tribute videos and thank-you cards.

Rabbi Steven Leder, senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and author of “More Money Than God,” encourages all parents planning bar and bat mitzvah parties to keep the focus on Judaism and on the child. When he meets with parents, he asks them to make two lists: one of values they consider Jewish and another of values they associate with bar/bat mitzvah parties.

The lists are starkly different. While the Jewish values list often includes sacred music, spirituality and community, the list of values associated with the bar mitzvah parties can include sexuality, gross excess, drinking and narcissism.

Leder has found this exercise very useful.

After discussing the values gap between the bar mitzvah service and the typical bar mitzvah party, “parents feel they have permission to embrace a more child-appropriate event and one with more Jewish content,” he said.

He recommends that a Saturday night party begin with a Havdalah ceremony and that parents should be more discerning about the music played at the event. He also encourages that some money be donated to MAZON-A Jewish Response to Hunger. One creative mom at the synagogue, tired of seeing party favors that went to waste, began doing mitzvah projects at parties, such as having kids make stuffed animals, which are then donated to a children’s hospital.

Leder also keeps parties held at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in line by insisting on no hard liquor, no amplified music outside and no inappropriate décor or themes, such as Halloween.

“We’re trying to avoid glaring contradictions to Jewish values,” he noted. “Besides, kid-friendly parties automatically save money.”

Chai’le Ingber, a Los Angeles-based party planner, says that times are changing when it comes to money and party planning. She acknowledges that while most people able to hire a planner aren’t the ones feeling the pinch as much as some others, she has found lately that some are choosing to scale back, so as not to flaunt their wealth at a time when so many others are hurting or are earmarking some money that would have gone to the party to tzedakah instead.

Ingber recommends that anyone who can host a party at home do so.

“There’s always something so special about a home party, when friends have helped out. Leave out the hall and the band if you can. You’ll cut major expenses, while creating a beautiful, homey event,” she said.

Inger even overheard her daughter, who recently completed her bat mitzvah circuit year, agree with friends that the most fun parties they had attended were home-based, because they were not done to impress adults but were geared to what the girl wanted.

Other ideas to save money include using a school auditorium or nonhotel venue.

“With a little creativity and twist you can transform even plain rooms into a themed room,” Ingber said.

After choosing a theme or colors with your child, inexpensive crafts and flowers can be found in a variety of stores downtown. And paper plates and plastic cutlery can still add color while saving money.

“The truth is, community pressure to create a certain kind of party can be intense, but it’s not the $500 cake that makes the party; it’s the hosts and the child who welcome you into their home or the hall who make it special. If the hosts are stiff and stressed, it’s worthless,” Ingber said.

Aaron Cooper, psychologist and author of “I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy,” hopes that more parents begin to see the upside of financial adversity in the form of valuable lessons learned and resilience developed.

Too many bar and bat mitzvah parties, he notes, have been marked by the worshipful emphasis on the child that colors so much contemporary parenting, yet spirituality and a sense of meaning are two of the ingredients essential for happy lives.

“What do we want the outstanding memory to be when our son or daughter looks back from middle age to their bar or bat mitzvah event? If a pinched pocketbook helps parents re-think this question, it’s the kids who will reap the dividends someday,” he said.

Judy Gruen’s latest book is “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement.”


Cut Costs, Not the Fun

Want to keep your costs low without alienating your family, friends and fellow congregants? Consider these tips from the proud survivor of a bar mitzvah party.

  • Buy a planner notebook and organize everything yourself, instead of hiring a party planner.
  • Skip the banquet hall and rent a neighborhood or community clubhouse, large room at an activity center or school assembly hall.
  • Cater through your favorite restaurant, instead of using a restaurant or banquet hall that only has package deals or would be more costly. If you get a package deal somewhere, read the fine print: There are invariably all kinds of strange charges, such as corkage fees, cake-cutting fees, charges for valet service and security.
  • Make your own centerpieces, adding a few balloons on top, with confetti sprinkled around the base. Decorate simply — sometimes too much really looks like too much.
  • Design and print your own invitations, RSVP cards and placecards. Today’s online paper businesses and PC applications make this easier and more beautiful than you could have imagined five years ago.
  • If your synagogue allows it, have your friends make the desserts and/or oneg sweets instead of buying them from a bakery. Get all of your beverages — alcoholic and no-alcoholic — on your own from a place like Costco, Trader Joe’s or BevMo.
  • Have your dinner for the out-of-towners in a Chinese or Italian restaurant that serves family-style platters — this cuts way down on the cost of individual meals.
  • Have a luncheon instead of a bar mitzvah dinner because lunch typically costs less. Alternately, forgo one really huge celebration and have two little ones — a casual oneg luncheon and then a kids-only party in the evening.
  • Interview and hire a photographer who will give you the disc with all of your photos, and you can make the album yourself online, with the help of a service like Flickr.com. It’s a very easy process once you learn how. Making the album yourself costs about one-half to one-third of the traditional proofs-and-album route.

— Denise Koek, Contributing Writer

Yes, we Cain


L.A. bakers suggest ways to make picking your cake a little sweeter


In Los Angeles, with today’s foodie culture in full tilt, there is no “one-size-fits-all” option when it comes to choosing a bakery to create the perfect wedding cake. And since it is the bride who usually makes the cake decisions, she’ll soon realize that it can be as complex as finding (and fitting into) her perfect wedding dress.

In fact, there are so many cake trends coming from all directions it would even make Martha Stewart’s head spin. Patrick Hansen of Hansen Cakes, Julien Bohbot of Delice Bakery (the only French bakery in the United States that is certified kosher by Kehilla of Los Angeles), Leigh Grode of The Cake Divas and San Diego-based wedding planner Melissa Barrad, all have very different notions on what the “it” cakes are this year and how to go about getting the “right one.” However, they all insist couples consider the cake basics knowing your budget, your crowd and yourselves before committing. There is also one critical, often-overlooked step they all touch on repeatedly-being sure ahead of time your venue of choice will allow you to bring in food from your caterers and bakery since rules vary from hotel to hotel and venue to venue.

“Doing different-flavored tiers offers your guests options, especially if the wedding cake is going to be your only dessert,” advised The Cake Divas’ Grode on the importance of offering something for everybody. “We usually suggest picking two flavors so the guests will have even amounts of each choice and won’t run out of either flavor. It is usually best to offer one chocolate choice and one non-chocolate choice.”

Grode notes that for many couples, classic white-on-white cakes are not only traditional, but also traditionally crowd-pleasing because of their simplicity. That being said, she notes that this year’s bridal customers are approaching her with such hot-button flavors as caramel, Meyer lemon and almond. Although she says buttercream frosting is beloved from a flavor standpoint, there are times when, based on the shape and design of the cake, the fondants (hard, sheet-like frosting), dark chocolate or whipped cream may be preferable. For strictly kosher clients, meanwhile, her bakery offers several good common sense alternatives.

“For kosher clients, we can create a pareve cake, or we can create a faux cake for display and the ceremonial cutting and then allow the client to provide sheet cakes from their favorite kosher bakery,” Grode said. “You can have a smaller cake for the strictly kosher guests, or have the entire cake made kosher.”

In terms of what will be, well, the icing on the cake, Grode observes that black-and-white designs within the frosting and cake toppers are making a comeback. Couples are further personalizing their cakes by replacing the familiar bride/groom topper with sleek monogram designs, crystals and family heirlooms. She also notes that creating cake layers with different shapes for a modern look is often requested.

Although Hansen’s Cakes has been a Fairfax Avenue fixture for decades, the favorite destinations of celebrities and studios still stands as one of the most trend-setting cake studios in town so much so that there are also Beverly Hills and Tarzana locations to meet the heavy demand. Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this all-things-to-all-people bakery has actually had a kosher kitchen (certified by Kosher Overseers Associates of America) from the very beginning.

The soft-spoken Hansen, who recently assumed the helm from father Gary, notes that the all-time wedding cake classics white cake with white buttercream and chocolate chocolate chip aren’t going anywhere. However, he says what’s new and exciting in wedding cakes are cake fillings (ranging from cream cheese-based preparations to custards and mousses) as well as cakes with a decidedly healthy twist.

“People are becoming more inventive with sauces used on and inside the cakes,” Hansen said. “Yet the most exciting new trend we’re seeing is the demand for cakes that are gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan and with no trans fat. The market is definitely shifting toward healthier alternatives.”

Although Hansen’s Cakes offers a full complement of frosting styles, Hansen says their fresh-made buttercream is the hands-down winner. Frosting style notwithstanding, he says couples need to come into the store fully prepared.

“If couples come to us ready with their dietary issues to the number of guests to what they have in their budget, to what hotels, synagogues and venues will allow them to bring in our products, we will be flexible and be able to work with them as well as their rabbi, if needed, on a very personalized level,” he said.

While Patrick Hansen’s particularly sweet on buttercream, Delice Bakery founder Julien Bohbot’s all about taking on the hard stuff marzipan, fondant and icing as they have their practical side as well as an adherence to authentic French dessert preparations.

“I do marzipan, fondants and icing styles of frosting because the cakes will hold up better, both during the delivery process from bakery to venue and during the dinner itself,” Bohbot affirms. “The look is sleek and smooth, verses buttercream, which often needs to be touched up every time it hits another object. Our cakes remain beautiful all night long. While other bakeries offer sponge cakes and cream, we can guarantee that what customers sample and order in our store will be what they get on their wedding day. If you want a cake that will be remembered for its elegance, less is more.”

Pico-Robertson’s Delice Bakery features a distinctively European experience, with such options as Opera, Tiramisu or Mont Blanc Cake, all with recipes true to their origins. Although customers can request multilayer cakes in different flavors, multiflavor cakes will cost much more from an ingredients and labor standpoint at Delice. However, as Delice is also noted for its diverse array of sweet table options, Bohbot suggests one way to approach offering guests a choice is to substitute one traditional cake with customized individual cakes for each guest who has confirmed attendance.

Wedding planner Barrad, of I Do …Weddings!, says she has observed myriad trends from different bakeries from satellite cakes (ensuring kosher layers will not be touching non-kosher layers) to couples ordering cakes made with fresh seasonal fruits. However, as dancing always follows the wedding dinner, she recommends fresh, lighter alternatives to deep dark chocolates, such as lemon and citrus-based cakes for summer and heartier flavors like pear/spice for fall and winter.

When it comes to the tradition of saving a slice for the first anniversary, some controversy remains. Based on her own personal and professional experience, Barrad does not recommend the practice. Instead, she suggests approaching your bakery about doing a small reproduction of the cake for the first anniversary and notes many bakeries she’s worked with will do that service for free or a small, reasonable charge.

Hansen and Bohbot can produce a mini-anniversary cake for a fee, but they also say cake preservation can be done as long as you wrap the cake pieces securely with plastic and foil over that. Bohbot says storing wrapped cake pieces in a bakery box also helps. But everybody can agree on one thing cake is best enjoyed on the big day.

Report from Beijing: Security, it’s not just for airports anymore


BEIJING (JTA)—Security checks no longer just for airports in Beijing

Olympic security is no easy task. It’s not just about the sports venues — attention must be paid to the entire city’s infrastructure, hot spots and transportation systems.

One of the transitions that I think Beijing residents have done with few complaints is adjust to bag x-ray security checks at the entrance of every subway station. This measure was added at the end of June as part of a three-month campaign to secure the city for the Olympics and Paralympics, yet even now, there are still a few stray stations where a guard manually looks in your bag for lack of a scanning machine.

Want to ride the subway? Let’s see what you’re packing.

This is the kind of treatment one might be used to in Israel, but not in freewheeling China.

When I ate at Dini’s kosher restaurant two nights before the Opening Ceremony, I was greeted by a 20-year-old Chinese guard in a reflective security vest with the Hebrew word “Bitachon” (security) on the front and a scanner wand in hand. My Israeli security check flashbacks returned — although I never spoke in Mandarin to the guys who checked my bag at the entrance to Jerusalem bars.

I don’t think China has quite reached the “chefetz chashud,” or suspicious object, level of alertness that one might find in Israel (and lately in the United States as well), where seeing an abandoned bag or anything out of the ordinary would merit a call to the authorities.

Maybe they are more vigilant out in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where Muslim separatist sentiment is strong and there have been both thwarted and actualized attacks in recent months. This story shows how the Chinese decided to rely on a low-tech approach to sounding the alarm – with a whistle.

All jokes about whistles aside, many Chinese people I have talked to in Beijing have insisted how Chinese terrorists, usually referring to Xinjiang or sometimes Tibetans, are “really fierce.” I wonder whether this is based on fear-mongering by the domestic media or not. On the one hand, 16 officers were killed and another 16 were injured in the western capital Kashgar this week when two men rammed a dump truck and hurled explosives at a group of jogging policemen. But of course, this kind of incident is used to crack down on individual freedoms and the rights of the press, who are not being afforded all the openness that was promised for the duration of the Olympics as evidenced by the recent beating of two Japanese journalists suffered while covering the most recent Xinjiang incident

The Israeli Embassy will have an event on Monday, Aug. 18 to commemorate the most fatal breach of Olympic security, the 1972 Munich Games where 11 Israeli athletes were killed after a terrorist infiltration of their Olympic Village accommodations. This tragedy was commemorated even earlier this year in Beijing, at the Chabad Purim party, which was Olympics-themed but included several placards and handouts about the athletes who died in ‘72.

With such a sobering legacy of Israeli Olympic participation, you would think that security would be more intense for the Jewish state’s athletes as compared to other delegations in the village. Yet Ephraim Zinger, the secretary-general of the Israeli Olympic Committee and chief of misson, says the Israelis are on the list of countries with the most sensitive security issues, but “we aren’t the only ones, and we aren’t at the top of the list either.”

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