Mizrahi Music Travels West
Eitan Salman is at the far end of his store, leaning against a shelf lined with the new CD by Sarit Hadad, one of Israel’s more popular Mizrahi, or Eastern, singers.
Business at Salman’s music store has fallen 80 percent over the last decade, but it’s not altogether a bad thing: Mizrahi music has grown so popular in Israel that it no longer is the exclusive domain of mom-and-pop shops like Salman’s but is sold even at Israel’s Tower Records outlets.
"Mizrahi music is now available across the country, in all the stores," laments Salman, whose shop is located across the street from where Tel Aviv’s old central bus station used to stand.
Indeed, with the superstar status of singers like Hadad, Zahava Ben and Moshik Afia, Mizrahi music now tops the charts in Israel and its popularity crosses ethnic lines.
Salman and neighboring store owners remember the "cassette music" heyday, a time when Mizrahi music was the exclusive domain of Mizrahi-run stores like Salman’s, near bus stations and in souks.
"In the 1980s, Mizrahi music was not sold in record stores," explained Barak Itzkovitz, musical editor of Galgalatz, Israel’s popular army music radio station. "Today, there is a lot of consciousness about this music, and it’s one of the most popular musical genres."
The roots of Mizrahi music in Israel date back to the 1950s and the mass influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. Every community arrived with its distinct religious music, commonly known as piyutim, as well as its favorite Arabic music.
As Iraqis, Moroccans, Egyptians and Persians mixed, they exchanged musical sounds as well.
"They found out they had commonalities in their music," said Shoshana Gabay, co-creator of "Yam Shel Dmaot," or "Sea of Tears," a 1998 documentary on the development of Mizrahi music in Israel.
Children born in Israel in the 1950s grew up with other influences as well: American rock music, Indian movie music, French and Italian pop music and Russian-inspired Israeli music. The result was fusion music far ahead of its time.
"Years later there was this world music combination in other countries," Gabay said. "But in Israel it started very early, with the Asian Jews."
By the 1960s, Tel Aviv’s Yemenite quarter was home to a brand new sound.
"They had all these parties, and at those parties they took what they had learned in school — Russian-inspired Israeli songs, some Chasidic songs — and made them Oriental sounding," Gabay said. "They blended these songs with popular Arabic songs and traditional Yemenite songs and made a mix out of them. They were making an interpretation, their own interpretation."
Musicians blended not only musical styles but instruments: electric guitar and oud, synthesizer and kanoun — a classical string instrument from the Middle East and North Africa — drum kits and darbuka, a Middle Eastern and North African hand drum.
Despite the ingenuity of this new groove, Israeli fusion music stayed in Mizrahi neighborhoods until the invention of the cassette recorder, when recording suddenly became economically viable to a community with meager financial resources.
The first Mizrahi music became available on cassette in 1974, and the hit bands Lahakat Haoud and Lahakat Tslelei Hakerem couldn’t produce recordings fast enough. Tapes flew off the shelves and into the hands of Mizrahi Israelis hungry for more.
But mainstream Israeli radio stations played few Mizrahi songs.
"The people in radio were mostly from Europe," said Yoni Rohe, author of the newly published "Silsul Yisrael," which documents the development of Mizrahi music in Israel over the past 50 years. "They didn’t like the Mizrahi sound. It was not easy for them to relate to."
"The popularity of Mizrahi music was a process that happened over 15 years," Itzkovitz said. "Like hip-hop in the United States, it came from the hood, from the bottom up. It just couldn’t be stopped."
Following the success of the first recorded Mizrahi music bands, Mizrahi pop stars suddenly began to appear around the country: Avner Gadasi of Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood, Shimmy Tavori from Rishon Le-Zion, Nissim Sarousi from Ramle.
Despite the dearth of Mizrahi music on mainstream radio stations, the Mizrahi music industry blossomed.
Zohar Argov, the poster boy for Mizrahi music, came onto the scene in 1978. Argov created Israeli country music, Ron Cahlili, film director of "Yam Shel Dmaot," told the Jerusalem Post in 1998.
"His subjects were the pain of love, betrayal, loss and sorrow," Cahlili said. "Argov was hard core, unafraid to sing about his reality and his life as he saw it."
At times compared to Elvis Presley, Argov lived on the edge: He died at 33 from a drug overdose. His albums continue to be best-sellers, however.
"Nancy Brandes did production for Zohar Argov," Rohe recounted. "Brandes came from Romania, and his connection with Zohar Argov made a new blend of music — a blend of big band and Mizrahi. This was a historical turning point. From there, in the 1980s, Mediterranean Israeli music went professional."
Meanwhile, other Mizrahi musicians developed new fusion sounds.
Ahouva Ozeri, a Yemenite-Ethiopian Israeli singer who became popular in the 1970s, mastered an Indian string instrument called bulbul tarang and gained a reputation as a world beat musician. She also helped pave the way for women in Mizrahi music.
Machismo was not the only obstacle to female Mizrahi musicians: In traditional Mizrahi households, a music career was equated with prostitution, and many families forbade their daughters from performing.
Hadad’s defiance of her parents is legendary in Israel. As a girl, she would climb out of her window at night to perform at local clubs. Her father, who died in 1997, refused to attend even a single concert of his superstar daughter.
Gabay and Rohe say the turning point for Mizrahi music was the development of commercial television and radio in the 1990s, which opened up new avenues for national broadcast of Mizrahi music, as well as other alternative sounds.
Today, Itzkovitz said, Hadad is hands-down the most popular Mizrahi musician in Israel. Afia and Itzik Kala are runners-up, and each puts out at least one platinum album per year.
"Mizrahi music is very, very popular on Israeli radio today," Itzkovitz said. "On major stations like Galgalatz, we pick only the songs that sell the best, the most popular ones that people love. Today, about 40 percent of what we play is straight-up Mizrahi music."
In addition, Itzkovitz noted, Mizrahi music has influenced musicians closely associated with the Ashkenazi kibbutznik movement. Among them is David Broza, who combines his style with the Mizrahi genre, and bands like Ethnix and Tea Packs, which combine rock and Mizrahi music.
Today’s hottest new sound is the fusion of Mizrahi music and hip-hop, Itzkovitz said. Indeed, Mizrahi musicians have blazed the trail for Israeli hip-hop, and children of immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Morocco and Yemen are at the cutting edge of Israeli music today.
Somehow, it seems, the music of the streets has became the music of choice.
"In the last years," Rohe said, "this mix of the new generations, the blend of music that came from Ashkenazi and Mizrahi homes, has brought a new sound to the ear that is as Israeli as you can get."
Article reprinted courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The Real Scoop Behind Ice Cream
“Ice cream was something my husband and I were hooked on,” said Vicki Grossman, talking from New York Scoop in Woodland Hills, her newly opened modern reincarnation of an old-fashioned ice parlor. “It was something of a ritual — we would take the family to Carvel at least once a week.”
That ritual, and others like it — such as serving ice cream for desert or eating it straight out of the carton with a spoon — have made ice cream one of the most popular foodstuffs in America today. No better time to celebrate that fact now, with July being National Ice Cream Month, designated by former President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Ice cream has something of an illustrious history in the United States: George Washington spent $200 on it in the summer of 1790, according to records kept by a New York merchant; Thomas Jefferson used an 18-step recipe to make his own; and Dolly Madison served it at her husband James’ second inauguration in 1812.
In the last century, with the advent of commercial refrigeration, motorized churns and packing machines, ice cream changed from being a luxury item to a common food product. Today, the ice cream industry is worth some $20 billion in the United States and is enjoyed in 90 percent of American households.
That enjoyment is due, in some part, to Jews. While Jews did not invent ice cream — although the International Dairy Food Association claims that King Solomon enjoyed iced drinks during harvest time — in this country many Jews made themselves invaluable to the ice cream industry in other ways. It was Jews — Rose and Reuben Mattus of Häagen Dazs — who introduced America to super-premium ice cream, which is ice cream that has less air beaten into it, resulting in a creamier, richer product. It was also Jews — Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s — who started throwing interesting things into their ice cream, like crushed toffee bars and pretzels, which changed the ice cream experience from being smooth and delicious to being chunky and daring.
If you are looking for Jewish ways to celebrate National Ice Cream Month other than eating copious amounts of ice cream, start by reading the newly published “The Emperor of Ice Cream: The True Story of Häagen Daaz, A Love Story,” by Rose Vessel Mattus (The Wordsmithy). It’s the story of how two Jewish immigrants came to the Bronx, fell in love, got married, produced ice cream, staved off gangsters and made money. In between full-page glamour shots of Rose, Reuben (or Rufky as she called him) and their children, the book contains some interesting tidbits. The thick creamy Häagen Dazs that we know today was the result of a factory accident, when the air injection pump broke. Rather than tossing what was possibly a spoiled run, the Mattuses tasted it and found that, with less air, the product tasted superior to any ice cream that was on the market.
The book also clears up the mystery of how Häagen Dazs got it name.
“‘I think maybe a Danish name,’ [Reuben] said suddenly…. ‘They’re nice people you know. Good people. They tried hard to save Jews during the war, ferried them to safety ahead of the Nazis…. Everyone likes the Danes.'”
The Mattuses chose Häagen Dazs as the name because it was a Danish sounding inversion of Duncan Hines, a company they liked.
If reading doesn’t strike your fancy, but you want to do something more unique than simply eating ice cream from the supermarket or from a chain store, you can head down to Munchies in Pico-Robertson. The kosher candy store makes its own pareve and dairy full-fat ice cream, and also serves a nonfat ice cream called Flavor Burst, a vanilla soft-serve striped with one of 10 different flavors, such as cheesecake or wild cherry.
“Everyone is selling the same thing, so we try to be innovative and different,” said Gagy Shagalov, one of Munchies proprietors.
And for Valley folks, there is New York Scoop, which aims to give consumers a taste of the ice cream parlors of yore. It serves regular and low-carb kosher ice cream, as well as Italian ices and gelato, frozen hot chocolate and old-style favorites like egg creams, banana splits and sundaes.
“I’m definitely eating more ice cream now that I opened this store,” Grossman said. “I try to keep it moderate, but not a day goes by without ice cream.”
New York Scoop is located at 200401 1/2 Ventura Boulevard, Woodland Hills. For more information call (818)708-5174 or see www.newyorkscoop.com. Munchies Sweet Emporium is located at 8859 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 777-0221.
Is Indoor Play Good for Your Kids?
Debbie Friedman was visiting with two other moms at Serrania Park in Woodland Hills on a spring day in 2002 when she noticed their children were talking to a man walking his dog on the other side of the park fence. She went over to see what was happening.
“He said, ‘How old are you kids?’ They replied 4 and 5. He said, ‘Well, I’m 6. What are your names?’ It was a really creepy conversation,” she said.
Friedman said she thanked the man for showing the kids his dog and then sent the kids away.
“A lot of parents have fears of predators in the park watching them. It’s hard to keep an eye on two little ones…. You’re afraid they’re going to run off and someone’s going to snatch them,” she said.
Parents cite a variety of reasons for shying away from taking their children to local parks, from safety to excessively hot, cold or inclement weather to unsanitary conditions on playgrounds and in bathrooms.
When many Jewish parents do take their kids to play outdoors, the locales they pick are often the tonier parks frequented by other Jewish parents, sometimes requiring them to drive 10 or 20 miles. Favored parks include Beeman Park in Studio City, Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills and Serrania Park.
Galit Almog is a working mom from North Hollywood who makes time to take her child to Beeman Park or Balboa Park in Van Nuys, but she said it’s difficult to coordinate play dates with other parents because they also have busy schedules. As a result she said she’s been gravitating toward Gymboree Play & Music, an indoor “edutainment” center.
Structured indoor learn-and-play venues have become increasingly popular as children lead more regimented lives. Academic expectations and after-school activities chew up free time for outdoor exploring, which was once the mainstay of childhood. Experts agree that the amount of play time available to the average child has been dramatically reduced to an hour or less each day. Factor in that many households require both parents to work and it’s easy to understand why indoor play areas are gaining in popularity among young families.
“It’s more structured, you have a teacher, you have music, things to play with and a routine kids get used to,” Almog said.
Brentwood mom Natalie Bernstein is equally enamored with Gymboree after encountering unsanitary conditions at a neighborhood park.
“It’s cleaner, safer and there’s a greater choice of toys,” she said.
Indoor play can also address the needs of parents, said Adrian Becker, the owner of Gymboree Play & Music franchises in Sherman Oaks, Northridge and Calabasas for the last 23 years. Becker said parents — mostly women — come to Gymboree to play with their children, learn songs and develop new parenting skills they can use at home, but most of all they’re looking to make friends.
“I think parents are looking for community, and this is their way of connecting with like-minded people,” she said. “The neighborhoods aren’t what they used to be. It’s hard to make friends in your neighborhood now.”
Suzy Epstein, preschool director of Conservative synagogue B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks, said that parents want their children academically prepared, especially since many schools now teach kindergarten as if it were first grade.
“Kids already need to have so many skills that [parents] want children in a structured program, because they’re afraid they won’t be ready for kindergarten,” Epstein said. “It’s our job to prepare them, because that is what they have to face.”
But some experts in children’s recreation say that structuring play and confining it to temperature-controlled environments for safety and comfort reasons isn’t good for children’s development. They call for a balanced approach that includes unstructured outdoor play and caution that too much time spent indoors can have negative physical, social and psychological impacts.
“What’s happened is what [UC Davis play expert] Mark Francis calls ‘the childhood of imprisonment,'” said Randy White, CEO of White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group, a firm that designs children’s play and learning centers.
“It’s because of a total fear of public spaces and child abduction. Parents today are horrified. Some parents won’t even let their children play in their own backyard unsupervised. The ‘secured, sanitized spaces’ are what kids are restricted to today,” he said.
White believes this is stifling children.
“Most of these activities are very structured, and young children need play — spontaneous free play, not directed play,” he said.
One indoor venue offering an unstructured approach is Playsource, a playground set up in a Woodland Hills shopping center storefront on Ventura Boulevard. Children stow their shoes in cubbyholes, run across a carpeted floor and choose from jumping in an inflatable castle bounce, scaling a rock wall, climbing inside a spaceship or playing house in a scale model, among other activities. The only time limits placed on kids are the operating hours and their own stamina. Parents take a seat at picnic tables next to the play area and visit with each other, read or eat while the kids play.
Friedman started the playground six months ago as a way to work and spend more time with her own children.
“Parks aren’t relaxing; you’ve got to chase your kids,” Friedman said. “Here, you come in, pay your eight bucks, you pass the gate and sit down.”
Jessica Gottlieb said she drives her two kids to Playsource at least once a week from Sherman Oaks.
“My kids beg for it,” she said. “They aren’t going to get hit, they’re not going to get sand thrown in their eyes. They like that they can be more independent.”
Gottlieb said she tries to split time evenly between outdoor parks and venues like Playsource, but if it gets too hot “we do indoor exclusively.”
Parents who spoke with The Journal said lack of shade at parks adds to their reluctance to visit. Trees in parks have been purposefully cut back from playgrounds out of fear that a parent might sue the city if a falling branch were to strike a child, said Kevin Reagan, the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department’s western regional superintendent.
Reagan said that L.A. Parks and Recreation offers some indoor programs, like gymnastics and dance, as well as some indoor play areas in child-care centers, but there are no plans to cover playgrounds or move them indoors.
“There’s really nothing negative with parents choosing to take their kids to those other facilities,” he said. “We have a lot of people living here and there is no way that the city can provide enough recreational opportunities for every person that needs them.”
However, researchers are finding that spending too much time focused on indoor activities can have detrimental impacts on children’s physical and emotional health. They advise parents to take their children outside more and let them play in ways that they determine for themselves.
“There’s an enormous amount of research finally being done, which is documenting the importance of these types of experiences to children’s development,” White said.
Parents are doing their children a disservice by shielding them from hot or cold days, said Robert Bixler, associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at Clemson University in South Carolina.
Bixler warns that children will become accustomed to a narrow range of temperatures if they spend too much time in controlled environments. “Air conditioning and heating is wonderfully comfortable, but it ends up limiting the experiences we have,” he said.
Another physical impact on children being traced to an indoor lifestyle is the growing problem of myopia, or nearsightedness. According to research conducted in Japan and Singapore by the Australian National University in Canberra, as kids spend more time indoors, focusing on close objects such as books, TVs and GameBoys, their vision is affected. Another study found that myopia rates in Israel among observant 14- to 18-year-old boys, who focus tremendous amounts of time studying religious texts, is 80 percent; only 30 percent of students in Israel’s secular state schools exhibit such problems.
In addition to physical problems, emotional and social issues also come into play. Can guided play impact a child’s sense of independence? You bet, said Jan Tolan, a CSUN leisure studies and recreation professor who specializes in play and recreation therapy.
“Depriving children of the freedom to explore or learn on their own is hurtful and damaging in many ways,” she said.
Experts acknowledge that directed indoor play can positively impact on a child’s development. But they also believe that when parents de-emphasize the importance of spending time outdoors it reduces a child’s desire to explore the world and can potentially prejudice them against participating in future outdoor activities. “There’s a whole range of experiences people shut themselves off from due to comfort,” Bixler said.
Self-direction, decision making and problem solving can be learned outside of a park, but Tolan believes that these natural spaces encourage greater personal exploration, especially when done in a way that is entirely independent.
“Don’t neglect that free time when the child can interact with the environment in any way they want to,” Tolan said.
She said parents still need to supervise their children for safety reasons when they take them to a park, but from a distance.
“Step in only when it’s absolutely necessary, or when invited by the child,” she said.
Ultimately, recreation experts say parents should provide their children with a much-needed break in the structure of their busy days that will allow for the opportunity to independently explore the world and have fun.
“Balance is a guiding principal in anything. Yes, Gymboree has some things to offer that will help your child develop, but don’t deprive your child of the park experience as well,” Tolan said. “The park is a learning environment, too.”
When Soviet film schools banned Vladimir Alenikov due to anti-Semitism, he risked arrest to make his own movies in 1973. The director cold-called Soviet stars, who quickly signed on to his innovative projects. He bought leftover film stock, scavenged equipment, faked documents and bribed guards to use editing rooms after hours.
His resulting movies, although illegal, eventually launched his career as a preeminent Russian writer-director.
The 55-year-old artist, who now lives in Woodland Hills, will return to Russia June 19-28 to lead a UCLA Extension study tour of the industry that once excluded him. (The reservation deadline is March 22.) Participants will attend the Moscow and St. Petersburg film festivals; they’ll also learn about the recent renaissance of Russian cinema, suggested by movies such as Andrej Zvjagintsev’s "The Return," which languished in the chaotic decade following the collapse of communism.
One stop on the tour will be Gorky Studios, where executives invited Alenikov for a meeting back in 1975. They wanted to adapt the popular children’s stories he had written to help finance his illegal films; after viewing the movies, they also agreed to let him direct, launching his official career. Although Alenikov soon became a household name, it was only after perestroika began that he was allowed to make his 1990 Jewish musical, "The Drayman and the King," based on the work of Isaac Babel.
When the film earned good reviews in the United States, Alenikov moved to Los Angeles, where, he said, he quickly learned he was "nobody." To survive, he drove taxis and sold belongings to pawn shops, which ultimately inspired his 2003 drama, "The Gun."
"To jumpstart my career, I knew I had to direct something that was inexpensive and original," he said of the thriller, which follows a gun as it passes among desperate people in the Valley. Filmed in real time (90 minutes), the movie consists of just 15 scenes shot without cuts; it’s earned kudos on the North American festival circuit and will screen at the Moscow and St. Petersburg festivals this summer.
Although "The Gun" is an American movie, Alenikov — still a high-profile director back home — feels it links him to new Russian cinema.
"Directors are no longer trying to emulate Hollywood," he said. "They’re returning to the Russian tradition, which is about examining the soul."
For tour reservations, call (310) 825-9064.
A Desert High in Palm Springs
While nearby flatlands warm under perfect 60-degree winter weather, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway transports visitors to a pristine snow-covered forest. In just 10 minutes, this aerial tram carries passengers nearly 6,000 feet. The beautiful 14,000 acres of Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area are among the most visit-worthy in this heavily tourist destination.
As you ride in the world’s largest rotating cars of the Aerial Tramway, the flora and fauna include everything one would see driving from the hot Sonora Desert of Mexico to the Transitional (alpine) Zone of Alaska. The highlights read like entries from a naturalist guide. From the main road nearest the tram, Highway 111, to the tram station, this green cienega, or Spanish marsh, nurtures cottonwood, sycamore, wild grape, mesquite and native Washingtonia filifera palm trees. Barrel cactus, cholla, prickly pear and yucca grow amid springtime wildflowers, including lupine, Canterbury bells and sunflowers.
Desert bighorn sheep, kit and gray foxes, bobcats, coyotes and ringtail raccoons also make their home here. As the tram climbs, wild apricot trees stand amid metamorphic rock, gneisses and schists. Deer and mountain lion roam among chaparral. And as the elevation rises, evergreens, firs and oaks thin as the peak approaches.
At the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, there are a host of trails — including a three-quarters of a mile loop through picturesque Long Valley, just behind the Mountain Station that introduces visitors to regional plants and animals. A much longer path, at 5.5 miles, leads to the peak of Mount San Jacinto, the second-tallest mountain in Southern California at 10,834 feet.
The ideal tram departure time is just before sunset. The reversible 80-passenger cars revolve slowly from within, making two rotations and offering spectacular views. One popular option: capping off the day with a drink in the Top of the Tram Restaurant and the Elevations Restaurant while admiring the city lights below.
Erected in 1963, nearly 30 years after its inception, the tramway was named an engineering “wonder of the world” for its ingenious use of helicopters in erecting four of five support towers; 23,000 flight missions were required to carry workers, supplies and materials for the towers and the Mountain Station.
During the summer, the mercury reaches well into the 100s in Palm Springs, but the mountain offers more than 54 miles of hiking trails, camping and guided nature walks, at almost 40 degrees cooler.
Another day, my father and I opted to hike closer to sea level at nearby Palm Canyons. This ancient home of the band of Cahuilla (Agua Caliente) Indians boasts palms that are 200 years old, many of them with the natural foliage skirts that are removed on commercial palms. These layers of dried branches encircle the trunk-like structure of these trees, which technically are massive grasses rather than trees.
We learned these facts and more by joining a guided tour with Rocky, a native Hawaiian who turned tribal ranger after serving 20 years in the Marine Corps and 10 volunteering with the San Bernadino Police Department as a rescue tracker. His desert survival skills make him a perfect guide. Rocky showed us all the edibles and how the native peoples prepared acorns, made their homes and harvested the sweet date palm fruit growing high overhead.
We wandered amid giant palms, verdant grasses and a warm, picturesque creek that smelled of sulfur due to a high mineral content. Rocky pointed out one tiny, creek-side impression where a native family would have once ground their acorns (five such mini-ditches appear in rocks throughout the canyon).
In contrast to our inspiring, mellow days of hiking, one evening we attended the raucous “Palm Springs Follies,” a Rockette-style music and dance of the 1930s and ’40s with performers old enough to have lived it. Amazingly youthful seniors age 56 to 86 strut their stuff in between international vaudeville acts from November through May.
Jewish impresario Riff Markowitz, a former television producer, serves as emcee for this three-hour extravaganza, leading the audience through a show peppered with Jewish jokes — even a few relating to travel.
At one point he turned his attention to the holiday of Thanksgiving, saying no Jews were aboard the Mayflower.
“Do you know why?” he asked. “There were no first-class seats.”
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is located at One Tramway
Road. The cost is about $20. Tramcars depart every half hour from 10 a.m. to 8
p.m. For more information, call (888) 515-TRAM or visit “>www.psfollies.com .
Where the End Justifies the Beans
Businessman Allen Gochnour is a regular at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on La Cienega Boulevard, and like many of the people who wait in the line that often stretches out the door, he’s not just there to grab a cup of java and run. Instead, the transplanted Pittsburgher hangs out to kibitz with the people behind the counter, who affectionately call him "customer of the year," answer the trivia question of the day and sip his Ultimate Ice Blended — a blended frozen slush of sweet milky coffee, before he continues with his day.
"This is what the world was intended for," said Gochnour, as he licks the whipped cream off his drink. "Kosher food, kosher coffee, a great place to sit down — Pittsburgh doesn’t have anything like this."
In fact, few cities do. In the battle of the bean, where chain stores like Starbucks and Peets compete to serve the strongest espressos and the frothiest cappuccinos to the hoards of caffeine addicts, Coffee Bean has distinguished itself — for the Jewish community at least — by its commitment to kashrut. Every drink, muffin, salad or sandwich is kosher.
Now, Coffee Bean is taking its relationship with the Jewish community one step further. In keeping with the company’s credo of opening community-friendly stores, the newest Coffee Bean store, in the heart of the Fairfax district, will be closed on Shabbat and will serve chalav yisrael milk (milk that has been supervised by a Jew) and pastries, to appeal to the ultra-Orthodox segment of the community.
Herbert Hyman opened the first Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Brentwood in 1963, which sold — coffee beans and tea leaves. Later on, as customers became more interested in the products, Hyman set up a beverage-sampling bar, and later on started serving a full line of beverages.
Hyman started opening more stores, and in the 1980s there were about eight Coffee Bean stores in Los Angeles. But it wasn’t until one Coffee Bean employee threw some coffee and ice into a blender in the mid 1980s that the store really started to become popular.
"That drink was responsible for the worldwide frappe craze," said Melvin Elias, Coffee Bean’s COO. "That is when the growth machine started. The Ice Blendeds became very popular and it made the [store] units profitable. It was an innovative drink, and it took a long time for an established player like Starbucks to realize that we were onto something."
By the late 1990s, there were 60 Coffee Bean stores, and Hyman sold the business to Debbie and Sonny Sassoon — Los Angeles-based Orthodox Jews. The Sassoons decided to invest in the brand on a more macro scale to set it up for more accelerated expansion. Now there are 240 Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores in California, Arizona, Nevada and in 10 different Asian and Middle Eastern countries. About a year after buying the business, the Sassoons also decided to make the products kosher.
Many in the community speculate that the Sassoons went kosher because they didn’t want to be responsible for Jews going into the stores and eating non-kosher products, although the Sassoons would only say it’s good for business.
"The market for kosher is growing tremendously," said Debbie Sassoon, who researches and develops the new drinks for the company. "Less than 50 percent of consumers for kosher products are Orthodox Jews. It’s because the kosher stamp means more supervision — a good housekeeping seal of approval, and [people think] that kosher is cleaner and purer. Also being that Los Angeles is the second-largest Jewish community in America, we thought that there would be a benefit to having kosher certification for our products."
However, experts disagree that selling kosher products has wider business benefits.
"I don’t think non-Jews think that kosher means healthier. I don’t think anyone really has a clue what it means," said Hal Sieling of Hal Sieling and Associates, a marketing company for the restaurant business. "There are obviously people who really care about kosher — but they are not gentiles."
Sieling thinks that the coffee craze has yet to reach its peak — he estimates that designer coffee drinking will continue to be popular until about 2010, and that Starbucks, a business with $4 billion in revenues and 7,000 stores (250 in Los Angeles), will carry on dominating the coffee store market, providing Coffee Bean with the staunchest competition.
"Starbucks is the biggest player by a long shot," Sieling said. "Nobody else is close."
Coffee Bean currently makes more than $100 million in sales, and while they are expanding into new neighborhoods, they say they are not interested in giving Starbucks a run for their money nationally.
"We have no plans to be No. 2; no plans to expand to the East Coast, although it might be a possibility since we have hundreds of customers that want us to do that," Elias said. "We focus mostly on the Southern California core market, and will continue to do so. We are born and brewed in California — that is our home."
The Beverly and Alta Vista Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf will have its grand opening on Nov. 2, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., at 7235 Beverly Blvd.
Jewish Wizard Takes Flight in New Potter Book
Are there Jews at Hogwarts? The world’s most famous School of Witchcraft and Wizardry might be muggle-free, but it is possible that it has an equal-opportunity policy for Jewish wizards.
In "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth of seven books in J.K. Rowling’s insanely popular children’s series, readers are introduced to one Anthony Goldstein.
The book doesn’t tell us much about Anthony, but we can ascertain certain things. He is in Ravenclaw, which means he is of "the sharpest mind" according to the "sorting hat." Because Anthony is a prefect, he is a considered to be a leader among his classmates. We know that he is one of the good guys, because he joins "Dumbledore’s Army," the defense against the dark arts class that Harry teaches after the unctuous professor Dolores Umbridge removes anything remotely practical from their defense lessons.
Representatives at Scholastic Books, the publisher of the Harry Potter series, said they had "no idea" if Anthony is Jewish or not, and Rowling was unavailable for comment. However, Dr. Raymond Jones, a professor of English at the University of Alberta, who teaches literature courses in "Harry Potter," said that is was highly probable that Anthony is Jewish.
"One of the things that is happening here is that Rowling is making the school contemporary," Jones said. "The school seems quite old-fashioned — they use quills and not computers — but, by populating her school with a variety of ethnic backgrounds, she is admitting to the reality of modern England and modern America."
But even if Anthony and others are Jewish, don’t expect them to start lighting the menorah too soon; according to Jones, religion plays no role of any kind in Harry Potter — where the only miracles are ones done by the wizarding community.
It may have been a silent film, but Paul Wegener made an international noise with "Der Golem." The 1920 German Expressionist classic — screening April 21 at the Skirball Cultural Center — remains a popular incarnation of the Golem. But it was not the first, nor the last, interpretation of the Jewish folk tale to permeate pop culture.
According to legend, Rabbi Yehuda Loew created the powerful automaton from clay to protect Jews from enemies such as Emperor Rudolf II in 16th-century Prague. The cautionary tale underscores how Loew’s attempt to play God backfires when he loses control of it and is killed by his own creation.
Wegener’s film surfaced after Gustav Meyrink’s 1914 novel "Der Golem." Born Gustav Meyer, Meyrink, the illegitimate son of a baron and a Jewish actress, wrote "Der Golem" out of a fascination with the occult that developed following a suicide attempt.
While the Golem appears only briefly and symbolically in Meyrink’s novel, the legend clearly informs Mary Shelley’s 1816 masterpiece "Frankenstein." Gershom Scholem explored the myth in his essay, "The Idea of the Golem," as did Isaac Bashevis Singer in his novel "Golem." More recently, the Prague Golem was a subplot of Michael Chabon’s 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner, "The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay."
Literature notwithstanding, the Golem’s water-fetching fiasco inspired the "Sorcerer’s Apprentice" sequence of Disney’s 1940 animated feature, "Fantasia." The Golem has been a catalyst for superheroes like the Hulk and marked a memorable "X-Files" episode, in which a librarian misinforms David Duchovny that the Sefer Yetzira (Book of Creation) explains how to create a golem.
The Old-New Synagogue, the Golem’s long-rumored resting place, and Golem merchandise still generate tourist dollars in Prague. So what is the continuing fascination with this story?
"Mendy & The Golem" comics creator Tani Pinson believes that the secret of its enduring popularity lies with the character’s identity — as malleable as the clay that spawned it.
"He is so open to interpretation," Pinson said. "And people can seek the Golem within themselves."
The Skirball presents a newly restored print of "Der Golem," featuring a score by Israeli composer Betty Olivero and live accompaniment by the Armadillo Quartet, on April 21 at 8 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.
Spinning a Jewish Web
When preschool teacher Sylvia Rouss noticed a lack of children’s literature about Judaism, she did something about it: she wrote the books herself. Rouss, who teaches at Stephen S. Wise Temple, is the author of the popular "Sammy Spider" series, which are widely used in Jewish schools around the country.
"I use the spider as a vehicle to teach young children about Jewish holidays and Israel," said the Tarzana resident. In her latest book, "Sammy Spider’s First Trip to Israel" ($6.95, Kar-Ben Publishing), which was released in July, Sammy tags along when the family he lives with makes a special trip to the Holy Land. "It is very hard to find any books for young children on topic of Israel," Rouss said. "We try to teach [children about Israel] every year because it is so important at a Jewish school."
Earlier, when Rouss completed "Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah" (Kar-Ben Publishing, 1993) she was asked to create a series around her crawling character. It wasn’t long before the young spider experienced Passover (1995), Rosh Hashana (1996), Shabbat (1998), Tu B’Shevat (2000) and Purim (2000). While "Sammy Spider’s First Trip to Israel," is the arachnid’s seventh adventure, Rouss has written numerous other books as well as two anthologies and two activity books.
Having traveled to the Jewish homeland every year for the last 27 years, Rouss has developed a strong connection to the country. As such, she just wrote a new book for older children called "Tali’s Jerusalem Scrapbook," which is about a young girl living in Israel. The story deals with terrorism through the eyes of a child. Rouss is quick to point out the importance of going to Israel during times like these. "When someone’s sick, you make a point of visiting them," she noted.
In addition to the "Sammy" books, Rouss recently released a preschool rhyming book called "The Littlest Candlesticks" ($14.95, Pitspopany Press).
Meet Sylvia Rouss as she gives public readings of her three most recent works on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. at Temple Beth Israel, 3033 N. Towne Ave., Pomona, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys, (626) 967-3656; and Sunday, Nov. 24, 11:30 a.m. at Pages Books for Children, 18399 Ventura Blvd., No. 15, Tarzana, (818) 342-6657.
The Way of No Way
Drawn in part by the recent movie, "Enough," in which actress Jennifer Lopez uses Krav Maga to even the score against an abusive husband, a long-established Orange County class in self-defense is seeing a jump in popularity.
Sessions in the self-defense training developed for the Israeli army and held at Costa Mesa’s Jewish Community Center are drawing 25 percent more students in the last two years, say its principal instructors, Krav Maga black-belts Mitch Markowitz and Michael H. Leifer, who have taught together for 10 years. Across the nation, other Krav Maga schools have also seen a rise in interest since the Lopez movie opened in May. Despite street-fighting female stars, seen also in films such as "Charlie’s Angels" and "Tomb Raider," women still only comprise about one-third of the students.
Learning Krav Maga, Hebrew for "contact combat," appeals to fitness buffs and those who desire greater self-confidence, the instructors say. "Everybody wants to be able to defend themselves," says Leifer, a lean, muscular lawyer. "Not everybody is willing to invest the time to learn it."
Unlike the centuries-old Asian martial arts, where warriors strive to perfect an established combat technique as a path to spiritual enlightenment, Krav Maga is for contemporary warfare. Stripped of spirituality and any rules of engagement, its promoters willingly incorporate effective techniques borrowed from elsewhere. It’s a credo adopted by martial arts legend Bruce Lee, who embraced "the way of no way."
"It’s strictly self-defense: right to the point, finish the job," says Dr. Jerry Beasley, a professor at Virginia’s Radford University who has written six books on martial arts and is the director of a "karate college" at the campus.
That’s what appeals to Eric Papp, 35, an Anaheim lawyer who also considered learning Japan’s jujitsu. "This looked more aerobic as well as more practical," he says, figuring that knowing how to defend against a choke, kick or punch will eventually pay off in a bar fight or an encounter of "road rage."
Wearing T-shirts, sweatpants and athletic shoes, about 30 people were enrolled in a recent $120, eight-week session. Most are professionals without previous martial arts training. A few strap-on belts similar to those worn in karate, where skill is designated both by color and degree. (Black is the top level in both methods.) The biweekly 75-minute workouts are intense, sweat-inducing exercises in defeating an attacker by targeting the most vulnerable parts of the body. Bolsters of different shape and density line up on one side of the wood-floored auditorium. The students kick and punch the pads as they pair off, alternating in the role of aggressor and defender.
Scenarios are introduced quickly; various defensive maneuvers are broken down and demonstrated in steps. Students don’t necessarily perfect them before a new one is tried.
"It inspires confidence in me," says Victoria Short, 28, of Costa Mesa, who enrolled at the suggestion of her often-traveling husband.
Teaching this calculated version of street fighting is supposed to show students how to defend against brutal, modern-day thugs and also builds awareness about avoiding problematic situations. "Don’t walk down the street into five guys who are rowdy," is the sort of advice Markowitz offers. "Cross the street. Don’t be stupid. If you have the option, run."
Rather than a contest of strength, Krav Maga training teaches using deftness to deflect an aggressor and how to counterattack. "We start slow, but they are real attacks, real punches; the real thing," says Markowitz, who, like his partner, trained with Darren Levine.
Levine, who attended Israel’s first international instructors course in 1981, established the U.S. Krav Maga training center in Los Angeles in 1996. Besides training individuals, the center also trains 150 law enforcement agencies nationally and certifies martial arts instructors in teaching Krav Maga.
Among the thorny questions raised by students is how far they can push their own defense before crossing the legal line to battery. Occasionally, the instructors refuse a potential student who appears to be seeking the training for illegitimate purposes. "Martial arts draws people seeking an edge for their shenanigans," Markowitz says.
Both Markowitz and Leifer are veterans of traditional martial arts training, a historical relic of 16th century, sword-fought warfare. "Those movements don’t work great for someone who is choking you," says Markowitz.
Leifer abandoned training in other martial arts after meeting Levine in Los Angeles while attending Loyola Law School in 1985. "His students had great attitudes, it wasn’t a very commercial endeavor and it’s a system that’s better at dealing with day-to-day situations."