Shul Business

No one taught Rabbi Ahud Sela how to read a budget when he was in the seminary. Talmud and pastoral counseling took precedence over the basics of planned giving.

So when the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly teamed up with American Jewish University (AJU) to create the Rabbinic Management Institute—a certificate program in nonprofit management offering business skills, management training and more—he jumped at the opportunity.

“Every part of the synagogue has to function well, including the business side, and it’s important for the rabbi to understand that,” said Sela, 35, of Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge.

“I needed help in everything,” he continued. “I needed to learn how to read a budget sheet. I didn’t know what it meant to lay out a strategic plan. I didn’t know the different kinds of fundraising that can be done. I didn’t know the latest trends in board management.”

For years there has been a growing need for rabbis to be able to run their institutions, or at least understand how they operate, said Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, director of the institute and associate dean of AJU’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, which is a partner in the program with the university’s Graduate School of Nonprofit Management.

“While rabbinical school might offer a little bit of that training, that’s not really how they spend their time,” Peretz said.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the membership organization for Conservative rabbis, said in a statement that the program equips rabbis with important skills to address the myriad challenges facing religious institutions with creativity and foresight.

“In today’s economy, it is more important than ever for rabbis to learn effective business models and management skills, ones guided by the deepest values of Judaism,” she said.

An initial cohort of 14 Conservative rabbis graduated last month following a year of activities and coursework. Participants came from across the country—as far away as Maine and Florida—for two in-person seminars. The rest of the curriculum was completed through videotaped lectures, paired-learning exercises and individual conversations with faculty.

Topics included leadership, supervision, board development, accounting, marketing, conflict management, budgeting, and development. These skills are needed now more than ever, Peretz said.

“In today’s world, organizations are having a rough time financially. There was a great need to gain an understanding of how to look at the financial picture and brainstorm ideas,” she said.

Ditto for issues of nonprofit management and helping clergy create healthy relationships with lay leaders, boards and volunteers.

Richard Siegel, director of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Jewish Nonprofit Management in Los Angeles, said the importance of all of these issues becomes magnified as rabbis take on more responsibility in their congregations.

“In recognition of this, increasingly we’re encouraging rabbinical students to either take management courses with us or take the full graduate certificate [in Jewish nonprofit management],” he said. “We have found that those rabbis in the field who have participated in our program have found it incredibly valuable. It’s clear that this is something that will be even more relevant in the years ahead.”

Siegel said that creating a program similar to the one at AJU for rabbis who already have been ordained is on his agenda.

A number of changes already are in the works for the certificate, Peretz said. First, it will be opened up to rabbis of all denominations, not just Conservative ones.

“The truth is the issues are the same when we’re talking organizational management,” she said.

Web-conferencing technology will supplant the videotapes and allow for interactive lectures, and individual mentoring will be significantly increased. Additionally, the next cohort will begin in the fall instead of February, and the price will drop from $2,200 to $1,800.

Rabbi Mark Bisman, a veteran clergy member preparing to retire in May, signed up for the program more out of curiosity than necessity. He had been learning about similar topics in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he is rabbi at Har Zion Congregation, and it sounded like an opportunity to explore them in more detail.

What he ultimately got was insight into his synagogue that paid dividends quickly.

“I learned how to look at the books in a different way and that makes all the difference,” he said. “It certainly has been helpful to me in terms of understanding how we can put our house in order to [prepare] for the next rabbi. I’m much more secure in some of these matters than I would have been.”

It has proven particularly helpful in dealing with the challenges of a 220-family congregation that has seen its membership decline, the rabbi added.

“We’re reorganizing … and finding donors and lenders to help us. We have a plan laid out, and it’s going to work,” he said. “Certainly the education that I got through this program helped me be a better articulator of what the situations are and how to move them along.”

For Sela, being part of the program has empowered him to make a number of changes to a 315-family congregation with no executive director that has seen its membership and revenue decline in recent years.

“I wanted to be able to help the synagogue with some of the administrative functions, and I didn’t have the capacity [before],” he said.

Now he’s helped create a five-year programmatic plan and revamped the temple’s fundraising strategy. Instead of simply distributing envelopes and hoping they come back filled with checks, everyone receives a phone call or personal conversation from a member of the fundraising committee as part of the annual appeal. Already the change is showing results.

“We’ve raised more money this year than in past years even though we have a smaller membership,” he said.

Sela brought in the dean of AJU’s Graduate School of Nonprofit Management to work with Temple Ramat Zion’s board, reduce its size and discuss its responsibilities. And from a marketing perspective, the rabbi learned to expand the synagogue’s offerings outside of its physical structure.

“You have to bring it to the people,” he said.

That realization has led him to hold classes periodically at local coffee shops. That way, congregants who work in the area can drop by during lunch to study Talmud or other topics.

Who knows how many more changes may be on the way for Sela and his congregation, but the rabbi said it’s a great beginning thanks to the new certificate program.

“I recommend it to all of my colleagues, especially ones working in smaller congregations,” he said. “It was all new information that has helped me tremendously.”

Six self-help books seek to help you get sealed in the Book of Life

In these days of asking tough questions, taking stock, revisiting memories and trying to do better in 5767, books are essential tools. Several new works from different disciplines and traditions, some of which don’t mention the words Days of Awe, lend new meaning to the holidays — on caring for orphans, baking bread, deepening celebrations, understanding forgiveness, practicing kindness, exploring traditional liturgy and rituals.


Project Shabbat a ‘Go’ in Cannes

Every year in May, a phenomenon occurs in the South of France — the Cannes Film Festival. Like showy, migrating birds, “Zee American Show Beez people” make their annual flight to the Riviera convention of Hollywood deal-makers. Clinging to their cell phones, they stuff themselves with French food, ogle the topless Euro-hotties on the beach and swarm the narrow streets with fistfuls of business cards.

At the grand hotels along the Croisette (the promenade along the beach), desperate show biz climbers dart from one hospitality suite to the next, making frantic attempts to get on guest lists for parties where there might be celebrities or “money people” who might fund their movie project. Very few people go to Cannes for love of the art of filmmaking. They go to make money and connections. Most of the conventioneers are so busy trying to cut deals that they never even see the films competing for the Palme D’Or.

Months before the Cannes Film Festival, Scott Einbinder, producer of “The Velvet Side of Hell” and Steven Kaplan of Rainstorm Entertainment (an L.A. production company), decided to host a Shabbat dinner and invite people of all religions to enjoy an evening of Jewish spirituality in Cannes. In America, religion and business are like peanut butter and jelly, but “Jewish spirituality” on the Riviera? It seemed out of place at a film market in France, a country so proud of being secular.

At first I thought the Cannes Shabbat dinner was another clever networking angle. Religion is big at the box office these days. And what better way for a couple of young producers to rub shoulders with some of Hollywood’s big movers and shakers than to invite them to a Shabbat dinner?

But I was wrong about the angle. As soon as I got to the Rococo Villa on Boulevard Montfleury and met Scott and Steve, I knew they were just a couple of nice Jewish boys. They had a tiny budget, but because of their good will and good luck, their Shabbat dinner fell into place.

Miraculously, they secured a sumptuous Belle Époque villa in the hills above the Croisette and some colorful local rabbis to lead the service. Rabbi Mendel Schwartz, executive director of the Chai Center in Los Angeles, flew in to help out with the Maariv service. A generous kosher caterer came through with saumon fumé and a cassoulet de poulet aux herbes, more elegantly served than at a restaurant along the Croisette.

My friend Frédéric, a handsome Corsican who had given me a ride to the party from Nice, panicked when a rabbi offered him a kippah.

“I’m not Jewish! I can’t wear this hat,” he said. “I’m starving, there’s all this food but no one’s eating! Can I eat, or is that bad form for a Jewish party? And where are the stars? Aren’t there any Jewish stars coming?”

It’s difficult to explain to a French party-boy who is “doing Cannes” why he can’t eat or drink until the sun has completely gone down over the Mediterranean and that even Christian stars might not show up.

I introduced myself to the rabbi and automatically reached to shake his hand. He scooted backward.

“I cannot give you my hand but I can give you my heart,” he said.

A guest in a low-cut dress overheard.

“He didn’t shake your hand? How rude,” she said. “We have another party on the Croisette if you want to go. We’re leaving right after we eat.”

I explained to her that the rabbi hadn’t been rude, that he was actually being polite. (Orthodox men don’t touch women who are not related to them.) She quickly lost interest and walked to the other side of the pool where the people looked more important.

At 7 p.m., a group of serious-looking men wearing long beards climbed up to the balcony overlooking the Grecian-style swimming pool and began maariv, the evening prayers. It was all very cinematic, the men in black holding their prayer books, singing and rocking back and forth toward the Bay of Cannes. We stood below them, a group of around 50 Festivaliers surrounded by faux, naked, marble statues of Michaelangelo’s David (uncircumcised).

During the prayer, someone’s cell phone rang — loudly. The ring tone was more Compton than Cannes. Just above the rabbis’ heads, a large banner belonging to yet another company renting the villa read, “FILMLINELA.COM.” Above the banner, on the balcony, several scantily clad starlets leaned out of a window. They were drinking.

“We need female energy,” Schwartz yelled from the men-only prayer balcony. He hadn’t seen the girls giggling in the window above him and wanted us (female Shabbat guests) to chime in from pool area below. Many blank faces turned to each other. Few guests knew the prayer.

An Israeli woman next to me whispered, “It’s so divisive, this kind of Orthodox thing. In Israel, these people scare us. All the dividing of women and men — it’s terrible.”

After the Kiddush, people, about 40 in all, rushed to their tables to eat. I saw some hesitation on French faces about the single glass of wine being passed around.

“I feel completely dépaysé [out of one’s country],” Frédéric said.

At our table, there were American bankers, lawyers and publicists as well as a French economist, a French rabbi and an attractive Asian woman who worked for an American production company. She was continually pulling up the spaghetti straps of her skimpy dress and blabbing on her cell.

“I’m hanging with the Jews tonight,” she slurred into her Nokia. “Tomorrow, we’re having a big party at our villa. I’m a little drunk right now.”

She was having a hard time sitting in her chair.

A banker at the table told me about the “Velvet Side of Hell,” which was produced by our host. “It’s about a three-way with an American ambassador. It’s got extortion and Hungarian porn stars.”

“Are the Hungarian porn stars real actresses playing porn stars?” I asked.

“No,” said the banker, “the Hungarian porn stars are playing themselves.”

(Scott, the producer, later explained that his film, set in Hungary, was a thriller, not a three-way, and that the banker’s description was all wrong: “None of the lead actors or even smaller role actors are porn actors.” The banker apparently had been carried away by Cannes’ decadent atmosphere, while also figuring that porn stars could be a selling point for “The Velvet Side of Hell.”)

Then the French economist asked me very directly about where I invest.

“Have you heard of Israel Bonds,” he asked. “I can get you 5 and a half-percent interest.”

I’m always interested in a financial tip and everybody at the table seemed to be breaking Sabbath rules, so I asked him how long I had to keep the money in to get the 5 and a half percent.

“Can you remember a number?” the kippah-wearing economist asked.

“No,” I said, “I’ll write it down. I’ve got a pen right here.”

“No,” he yelled. “It’s the Shabbat! You have to remember the number! I can’t give you a card. I’m not working!”

Across the table, the Israeli woman was arguing with a pro-Palestinian banker.

“Have you ever been to Israel?” she demanded.

He hadn’t.

“Well then you don’t really know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Come to Israel and see how tiny it is and see who is right!” Like he had touched a live wire, the banker swiveled in his chair toward me and away from her. “Have you seen ‘Hellboy,'” he asked me.

“I loved ‘Hellboy.’ He’s so shy and sweet.”

I know our hosts meant well by trying to bring a little spirituality to the Cannes Film Festival, but mixing morality with show biz is no easy task. It’s like trying to inject water into oil. Still, I enjoyed the party. The food was good, the view was great, the religious ceremony was uplifting and the business chatter was predictably ridiculous. When I left, I couldn’t help thinking that I had just experienced the real velvet side of Hell.

Carole Raphaelle Davis lives in Nice and Los Angeles. She can be contacted at

A Cannes-Do Triumph for Israeli Actor

Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

When Hanna Laslo won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in Amos Gitai’s “Free Zone” May 21, she made Israeli cinematic history. It was the first time an Israeli actor has received the prize — perhaps second in prestige only to the Oscar — since Oded Kotler won for Uri Zohar’s “Three Days and a Child” in 1967.

Laslo, 51, plays a brassy cab driver who sets out to conduct business in Jordan’s “Free Zone,” a customs-free region where nationalities mingle in a giant auto bazaar. Along for the ride is an American Jew (“Star Wars'” Natalie Portman, who was born in Jerusalem) and a Palestinian woman (Hiam Abbass) who joins the Middle East road trip.

During her Cannes acceptance speech, the moon-faced Laslo — known in Israel for her edgy one-woman shows — proved as feisty as her character when she demanded that presenter Ralph Fiennes kiss her on the cheek. She then said she wanted to share the award with her mother, an Auschwitz survivor and with “victims in general, notably Arabs and Palestinians.” She also suggested the film’s true subject is Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

“It’s high time we come together and try to work out solutions to this problem,” she said, prompting thunderous applause from the star-studded audience.

In a press conference, Laslo said she identified with her character because she, too, loves her country and wishes for peace, while acknowledging that political strife makes life economically and emotionally rough for Israelis.

Her character is a metaphor of Israeli existence and the struggle to survive, she told the Jerusalem Post.

“It’s not for nothing that I mentioned Auschwitz in my [acceptance] speech,” she said.

Community Briefs

Center Board Wants Member to Resign

Pini Herman, an activist and outspoken critic of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), has been asked to resign from the advisory board of the Westside Jewish Community Center (WJCC) by the group’s president.

Herman, in a stinging missive to Westside JCC President Michael Kaminsky, said he refused to step down. “The whim, outrage, thrashings and arbitrariness that you and your JCCGLA support network are displaying is what has driven away many capable, talented, responsible and community-minded people from having anything to do [with] the WJCC and JCCGLA,” he wrote.

Kaminsky, in an earlier e-mail, characterized Herman as “belligerent” and “antagonistic,” saying the time had come for him to resign or be ousted.

The main cause sparking the latest brouhaha was Herman’s request to have a union member represent him and take notes at an upcoming WJCC board-JCCGLA meeting that he cannot attend.

Until recently, JCCGLA and unionized center workers were engaged in tough negotiations that called for salary and health benefit cuts. Kaminsky, in addition to his Westside duties, sits on JCCGLA’s board.

Herman, who attended a WJCC advisory board meeting May 5, said no one raised the issue of his dismissal. “I think Kaminsky was making up the process as he was going on and overreacted to my request,” Herman said.

In an interview, Kaminsky said he was frustrated and disappointed that Herman had leaked private e-mails to the press and that Herman had screamed at him recently on the phone. He added that no further action against Herman is planned. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Tenth Yahrzeit for ‘The Rav’ Planned

Young Israel of Century City will host a community forum Sunday, May 18, in commemoration of the 10th yahrzeit of “The Rav” — Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the preeminent Talmud scholar of the 20th century, whose philosophy shaped modern Orthodoxy.

“Hearing The Rav lecture was the most exciting intellectual and spiritual experience you could have,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, rabbi of Young Israel of Century City. “You thought you were hearing Torah straight from Sinai. He was so clear and profound, able to transform the most difficult concepts into simple language.”

The Rav’s great nephew, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik will speak about how his uncle emerged from a Lithuanian rabbinic dynasty to become a revolutionary leader in an Orthodox community confronting modernity. Soloveichik will also deliver a Shabbat lecture on The Rav’s influence on interfaith dialogue.

Rabbi Asher Brander of the Westwood Kehilla, Rabbi Nachum Sauer of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles and Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob will teach classes on different aspects of Soloveitchik’s thinking.

“A Man for All Seasons: Reflections on The Rav” will beheld Sunday, May 18, from 9 a.m.-12:15 p.m. at Young Israel of Century City,9317 W. Pico Blvd. There is no charge. For more information call (310) 273-6954or go to . — Staff Report

First Training in Adult EducationOpens

Most rabbis, cantors, educators and communal professionals have had no professional training for meeting the needs of adults seeking Jewish education — until now. This spring, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles established the Institute for Teaching Jewish Adults (ITJA). The continuing education program, which is the first of its kind in the United States, will train Jewish professionals and advanced lay leaders on how to reach out to the growing number of adults seeking Jewish literacy.

“Concerns over Jewish literacy and the need to develop an informed leadership are becoming commonplace in our community, affecting every family and synagogue,” said Dr. Diane Tickton Schuster, director of ITJA.

“It is increasingly important that Jewish professionals who work with adults understand the learning needs of this highly diverse constituency and the best strategies for teaching them,” she said.

Currently, the new program has a pioneer class of six students, all rabbis.

“This is training they never had as part of their preparation for [their] positions,” Schuster explained. Participants will learn how to cater to “well-educated Jewish adults, who feel under-educated Jewishly” and help them study and embrace Jewish history, Jewish text, Hebrew and find meaning within their Jewishness. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

El Al Offers New Class of Service

El Al recently replaced its business class with a new Platinum Business Class, offering increased personal service and comfort to passengers on its 777 and 747-400 aircraft. Each jetliner has been reconfigured, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in the number of seats and increased leg room for Platinum Business Class passengers. In addition, each seat has a laptop power outlet, personal lighting and a personal TV monitor.

Additional improvements include an increased number of flight attendants, more meal choices and courses and an extensive wine menu. At specific El Al Platinum Business Class counters, check-in is expedited and travelers are allowed three pieces of luggage, compared to two in coach. Platinum Business Class passengers are also allowed the use of specific airport departure lounges, such as Los Angeles International Airport’s King David Lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

For those traveling to Israel on a full-fare Platinum Business Class ticket, El Al offers a $250 round-trip companion Platinum Business Class ticket.

For more information, visit . — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

Buy for Chanukah, Donate to Israel

The idea of a rabbi doll came to Gary Barris while he was shopping during the holiday season two years ago.

Overwhelmed by stores filled with Christmas decorations and gifts, the young Detroit entrepreneur said he “felt there was a void for sending greetings in the Jewish community.”

His answer: “The Rabbi Says…,” a 10-inch-high, plush rabbi doll.

Barris’ rabbi doll, which debuted last year, wears traditional Jewish garb and comes with a blank greeting card where buyers can add their personalized Chanukah wishes. It’s currently selling for $11.95, mainly on the Internet at

Barris consulted Orthodox and Conservative rabbis before sending the final sketches to China, where more than 3,000 dolls were sewn, stuffed and shipped back to Michigan. He has sold more than 800 dolls so far. He has plans to expand his rabbi line to create a talking version that may say “Mazal Tov!” or “L’Chaim!”

If you buy the rabbi this year, a portion of the proceeds will go to the United Jewish Communities’ Israel Emergency Campaign.

Rabbi doll sales are just one way that North American Jews are being encouraged to support Israel as the Palestinian intifada enters its third year.

“We have felt helpless in the fight for Israel for so long. This is one way we can all truly make a difference,” said Lisa Katzman-Yassinger, a volunteer who devised a campaign to make the third night of Chanukah, Dec. 1, “Support Israel Day” on the Web site

With more and more people shopping over the Internet, it has become much easier to buy products directly from Israeli vendors who are struggling amidst the country’s economic downturn. is a nonprofit site set up last February by Californian Jane Scher and run by a team of more than 50 volunteers from around the world.

The site allows people to buy a variety of items — Judaica, art, jewelry, food, wine and other products — directly from Israeli merchants.

“The idea started at a bat mitzvah,” Scher said. “I had bought a gift from Israel and everyone at my table was very excited about it.”

A full-time volunteer for the San Diego Jewish community, Scher said she contacted some vendors in Israel and launched the site with just 15 links. The Web site now lists over 350 Israeli companies and has had more than 222,000 hits since February.

The goal of the site is “to help struggling merchants in Israel who have been hit by this rapid decline in visitors,” according to a news release sent out by Scher.

And there are success stories. Scher said vendors have sent her letters claiming that 30 percent to 50 percent of their business comes through the Shopinisrael site. One merchant, Ocean Herbs ( got a contract with an American company to bottle and sell its products overseas thanks to the Web site.

Similar sites have sprung up on the Web such as, which promotes Israeli products and is sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

A site called, based in New York and New Jersey, creates free Web pages for Israeli businesses trying to sell their products abroad.

And on, the rabbi doll may find his competitor in “Shimale” a doll of a little Jewish boy wearing a red and purple yarmulke who is accompanied by a series of narrated CDs and videos. For just $14.95, a Chanukah evening can be spent watching Shimale star in “The Tabernacle Treasures.”

However, not all the shop-in-Israel-type Web sites offer merchandise that’s quite as light-hearted.

Some of the sites, like, sell genuine Israel Defense Forces gear like the bulletproof Titian Vest Level-3 — listed under the product heading “Ballistic Protection” — or gas masks for adults, children and infants.

Marketed for sale abroad, such products serve as a stark reminder that all is not cheery for world Jewry this Chanukah.

It’s Delish Is Delovely

Dressed in a white shirt and black pants with tzitzit hanging out the sides, a red beard and a big black velvet yarmulke on his head, Rabbi Moshe Grawitzky looks like any other yeshiva rabbi. But he’s not — or at least, not anymore. As the founder of It’s Delish, an innovative kosher food manufacturing and distribution company in North Hollywood, the ultra-Orthodox Grawitzky is as likely to be hobnobbing with the head buyers from all the large supermarket chains on the West Coast as he is with colleagues from Toras Emes, the school he used to teach at, while he establishes himself as a mover and shaker in the highly competitive world of retail food merchandising.

Grawitzky and his wife, Chana, started It’s Delish 10 years ago with $100,000 in start-up capital borrowed from credit cards and free-loan societies. They began with a small line of kosher-for-Passover nuts, dried fruit, spices and candy, which they packaged in bags and then peddled to supermarkets. As simple as the idea sounds, there was nothing quite like it available in California.

"Back then, there was no availability of mainstream, normative kosher snacks," Grawitzky says. "In the supermarket’s mindset, they were pitching toward what they thought made the most Jewish bang for their buck. They stocked a lot of gefilte fish and borscht –they must have thought that we took an IV of gefilte fish every morning for breakfast and had these lavish matzah ball parties all the time."

It’s Delish was started with the aim of changing the price and the quality of kosher food. The Grawitzkys wanted to produce up- market products at downtown prices, and, in Grawitzky’s words, "to enhance the joy of being a kosher consumer."

"There has always been some perception that if you were going to keep kosher, then you were going to be punished financially for that pleasure," Grawitzky says. "And I don’t like being taxed to the hilt because I’m Jewish. So we decided that kosher is never going to be more expensive if we can help it. If anything, it was going to be less expensive."

"It has also been a lifelong goal to make Yiddishkayt and Jewish products more user-friendly," he adds. "So we wanted to create a contemporary type of upscale snack that would complement the consumer."

Unlike Jewish food companies such as Manishevitz, It’s Delish offers consumers mainstream food products. And unlike Liebers and Paskez, sold only in kosher stores, It’s Delish is sold in mainstream supermarkets. Colorful packaging and an upbeat logo give the products a bright, cheery and contemporary feel, and when compared with the equivalent products in the supermarket, it wins the price test. At Ralphs on Pico Boulevard, an It’s Delish peach pie costs $3.99, compared to the Ralphs brand at $4.29. It’s Delish basil retails at $3.49 for 2 ounces, McCormick basil is $6.19 for one-third of an ounce.

The Grawitzkys’ dedication to bargain prices — they even put their kosher-for-Passover products on sale before the holiday — is not without drawbacks. "Sometimes that means we take a loss," Chana Grawitzky says. "When pine nuts went up to $12 a pound, we kept the same price, and we did not increase it, because our goal is to give great quality products at great prices."

Presently, the only thing inflating in It’s Delish are its business operations. The company now offers over 300 products which are sold in several hundred supermarkets in California, Nevada, Oregon and Seattle. Products are packaged in a Valley warehouse complete with a $100,000 temperature-controlled cooler room to store the chocolates and candy, and then shipped on one of the It’s Delish trucks to the supermarkets.

At times, It’s Delish will do "kosher runs" at non-kosher manufacturing plants, so that they can produce lines of products that are traditionally not kosher (such as sour worm candies). They recently created a line of kosher-for-Passover soft drinks when kosher-for-Passover Coca-Cola was not available in California.

It’s Delish has also created their own innovative packaging and storage for their products. It’s Delish spices are sold in larger plastic bottles with wide openings, instead of the smaller glass containers that spices are traditionally sold in. In addition, the company builds its own shelving specially designed to hold It’s Delish products to put in the supermarkets.

The company employs 40 people to do the packaging, the shipping and shelf stocking, with the Grawitzkys overseeing most of the product development and marketing.

"When we started it we thought it would be a mom-and-pop type of operation on a very small, localized scale," Grawitzky says. "A hobby so to speak. We never expected it to take over our lives."

He says he makes millions of dollars in sales every year, but not millions of dollars in profits. Although he credits the supermarket chains with being receptive to their dreams of quality kosher products, Grawitzky says that the financial reality of the supermarket business is brutal.

"There is a religion going on in the supermarkets now to save labor, so we send in our own workers to stock the shelves," he says. "We also need to pay slotting fees just to get the shelf space. We end up paying for the trucks, the space and the labor — and this is the type of system where you can drive 300 miles to make a delivery, arrive five minutes late and be told to turn back and come back the next day."

"But the fierceness of the competition to get an inch of shelf space is the most sobering thought of all," he adds. Indeed, It’s Delish does not even try and compete for shelf space in the spice or candy aisles, preferring instead to stock their products in a different part of the supermarket, where they can control the way that the products are presented to the consumer.

Product and display control are a big issue for Grawitzky, who recently turned down a distribution deal with the Wal-Mart chain. "It was an instant sale of millions of dollars," he says. "We turned them down because we thought that they would not do a nice enough job merchandising the product." He says that his displays have garnered praise from high-ranking supermarket executives across the country, and he is reluctant to give that up for the sake of a few more dollars.

It is not only kosher consumers that are enjoying It’s Delish products. Terry O’Neil, director of public relations for Ralphs Grocery Co. in California, told The Journal that It’s Delish is carried in many of the stores that serve a predominantly Spanish customer base, and it sells very well. "In a lot of the Hispanic stores that we have, it is selling better than in the Jewish neighborhoods," he said. "For us, it has been a very good product and a very good seller."

In the future, It’s Delish plans to increase its product line and distribution centers and hopes to continue being ambassadors for kashrut. "I want people to realize that we serve people who are lawyers, doctors, actuaries and venture capitalists making multimillion dollar salaries," says Chana Grawitzky. "They might live in beautiful homes in Hancock Park of Palos Verdes, but they keep kosher."