It’s the Swan Song for Hatikvah Music


On a recent afternoon, boxes were scattered around the floor of Hatikvah Music International on Fairfax Avenue. Stacks of CDs, piles of mailing envelopes and piles of boxes to be mailed threatened the barely discernible order of the store. Aside from owner Simon Rutberg and his visitor, the store was empty.

You’d never know that this is the world’s largest outlet for musical Judaica, because it looks like moving day. And come January, it will be moving day for real, when Rutberg is forced to give up the Fairfax Avenue store that has been a landmark for Jewish music lovers for decades.

Fairfax is changing, and to many long-time business owners and visitors, not for the better. Gentrification has been threatening the street for some time. Hatikvah isn’t the only store on the block to feel the heat, but fans are already concerned about the store’s demise.

“For me, that [Fairfax] strip of the Borscht Belt was always defined as much by Hatikvah as Canter’s or Diamond’s Bakery,” broadcaster Rene Engel (KCRW-FM, KUSC-FM, KCSN-FM) told The Journal. “It was the only music store my mother ever shopped at, and that was my link to the music she grew up with. It was also the only place to go for Israeli music. I can’t imagine Fairfax without Hatikvah.”

Neither can KCRW general manager Ruth Seymour, who builds her annual “Philosophers, Fiddlers and Fools” radio show around what Rutberg selects for her.

“I’m from New York,” she said, “the East Bronx, and I can tell you uncategorically that there’s nothing like Hatikvah [even] back there.”

Many viewed the store as a music archive.

“Universities came to me when they wanted rare field recordings,” Rutberg says. “Record companies like Columbia tell me that if I ever close, they’ll discontinue certain records because there will be no place to buy them.”

Rutberg finds a rare CD and holds it up for inspection: “Shba Hoth: Iraqui Jewish Songs from the 1920s.” Then there’s the album of Jewish music from the southern coast of India. “You can’t go anyplace else for this,” he says.

Although Rutberg will vacate the shop next month — with no current plans of how or where he will relocate — the store’s doors stand customarily open on this December afternoon, music wafting onto the sidewalk. Even louder are the persistent clacking noises from across the street: A group of boys practice skateboard maneuvers outside a store selling T-shirts that looks like a Melrose transplant — evidence of a transforming Fairfax.

Despite the racket, the compact, well-groomed Rutberg lowers his voice when asked about why he started Hatikvah back in 1987. He says he wanted to help save Yiddish, and specifically Yiddish music — part of a national trend that now includes institutions such as Yiddishkayt Los Angeles and the National Yiddish Book Center.

The long, narrow store — laid out like a shotgun shack — has a fascinating history. It opened in 1948 as Norty’s, Rutberg says. Some 50 yards from Fairfax High, it went on to sell music — both Jewish and pop — to generations of music-hungry kids, including Phil Spector and members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Jerry Leiber worked there as a teen, before he met Mike Stoller and they went on to write one of the largest and greatest catalogs of rock ‘n’ roll songs. When Herb Alpert played weddings and bar mitzvahs, he put his flyers there.

Steve Barri (nee Lipkin) also worked at Norty’s, and the store was his springboard to a job as an A & R man for Dunhill Records in 1963. Rutberg casually touches the counter as he notes, “Steve and Phil Spector wrote ‘Secret Agent Man’ right here.”

Rutberg discovered the place when his family moved to the area after emigrating from Poland in the 1950s. Norty’s became his neighborhood music store, and Rutberg even worked in the shop in the 1960s. Eventually he moved on to other pursuits — downtown retail clothing, a Westwood record store — before returning in 1987.

These days, some of the store’s biggest sellers are displayed near the cash register: “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish & When You’re in Love & The Whole World Is Jewish (Double Length)” and Mandy Patinkin’s “Mamaloshen.” Also on display are two CDs Rutberg released on his own Hatikvah Music label: “Leo Fuld Sings His Yiddish Hits” and Martha Schlamme’s “Yiddish Songs From My Father’s House.”

What’s this? “Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites”? A twinkle appears in Rutberg’s eye as he explains, “Continues to sell, year after year.”

On the wall behind the counter, a small shrine to Jackie Wilson? “Sure,” he affirms. “A great singer and a good friend of mine. You ever hear his record of ‘My Yiddishe Mama’?”

Just then a young blond woman walks into the store. Rutberg greets her, and they confer. While the proprietor disappears into the back of the building, she says she’s in the process of converting to Judaism.

“[My temple] told me that I should come here to get some music for my seder,” she says.

When Simon returns, he has found exactly what she needs.

Over the years, Rutberg has also served numerous celebrities, including Johnny Mathis, Steve Lawrence and Theodore Bikel. Folksy singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen once wanted some cantorial music. Bette Midler was looking for something by the Barry Sisters, citing Claire Barry as her prime influence.

“I picked up the phone,” recalls Rutberg with a sly grin, “dialed long distance and said, ‘Claire, there’s someone I want you to speak to.'”

Asked what will become of Hatikvah, Rutberg shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he says.

In recent years, he has done much of his business online at www.hatikvahmusic.com, so possibly that will continue. But the landmark store loved by so many will be a blank storefront by next month.

Rutberg believes he did his part to save rare Jewish music. “But I couldn’t save myself,” he adds, ruefully.

For more information, call (323) 655-7083.

Simon Rutberg, owner of Hatikvah Music International will be interviewed on KCRW-FM’s “The Politics of Culture” on Monday, Dec. 26, at 7 p.m.

Kirk Silsbee has been writing about music in Los Angeles — mostly jazz- — for the last 30 years.

Lack of One Enzyme Triggers Illness


Gaucher Disease is a rare, inherited disease caused by a hereditary deficiency of a single essential enzyme, glucocerebrosidase, according to the National Gaucher Foundation (NGF).

Because this enzyme is necessary for breaking down aging blood cells, its lack causes some cells to become engorged. This condition eventually crowds the liver, spleen, bone marrow and lung cells and causes those organs to swell, disrupting production of blood cells in bone marrow and causing destruction of bones.

Genetic counselor Amy White of the Lysosomal Diseases Treatment Center in the Genetic Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin put it this way: “Lysosomes are like the garbage disposals of our cells. Their job is to collect and get rid of the waste products.”

Symptoms of Gaucher Disease can occur in childhood or adolescence, but the disease is most often diagnosed in adults, according to the Center for Jewish Genetic Diseases Web site.

An enlarged spleen and liver are often the first noticeable symptoms in children, said White, a member of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

“And these are pretty noticeable,” she added. “You see a skinny kid with a big belly.”

The most common symptoms in adults are bone breaks, bone infection, unusual bleeding and tiredness, White said. An “easy and accurate blood test” can diagnose Gaucher Disease and identify carriers.

The effects of the symptoms vary, depending on the severity of the disease, but they can be managed with biweekly infusions of Cerezyme, an enzyme manufactured from Chinese hamster ovaries, which are referred to as “cho.”

“It uses recombinant [artificially created] DNA technology that is five to seven years old. It is the oldest enzyme therapy around, so we know the most about it,” White said.

Gaucher Disease is one of three lysosomal diseases treated at the center, and is the only one that primarily affects Jews. The other two, Fabry Disease and MPS 1, also called Hurler’s Disease, strike across ethnic lines.

The prevalence of Gaucher Disease in Ashkenazi Jews occurs because of something geneticists call the “founder effect.” This refers to a genetic trait or disease that has a high frequency in a contemporary population, because the gene was introduced by a founder into a small, often geographically or socially isolated group of people whose numbers then rapidly expand, according to a medical paper distributed by the NGF.

Ashkenazi Jews became susceptible to a variety of hereditary diseases because of their long history of “sudden periods of population contraction — the Crusades, pogroms, the Holocaust — followed by concentration in restricted areas — ghettos, the Pale of Settlement — and then temporary multiplication to large numbers.”

Though Tay-Sachs Disease, which affects one in about 2,500 Ashkenazi Jews, is the most well known of about 10 genetic diseases afflicting that population, Gaucher Disease is much more widespread. One in an estimated 450 Ashkenazi Jews suffers from the disease, and one in 14 is a carrier, according to the NGF.

 

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Philatelists Give Israel Stamp of Approval


Alan Beals started collecting stamps as a boy. In the ’80s, when a flood of new issues from the U.S. Postal Service swamped his enthusiasm, Beals stumbled into the obscure niche of Judaic philatelists. Along the way, his hobby yielded a self-education in American Jewish history and led to his publishing a catalog for a rare breed of stamp collectors like himself who covet Jewish charity seals.

This month, Israel’s postal authority plans a limited issue clock tower stamp series that niche hobbyists like Beals are eager to obtain. The special issue recognizes a Tel Aviv exhibition this month, Telabul 2004, that lures exhibitors such as Robert B. Pildes, of Evanston, Ill., president of the U.S.-based Society of Israel Philatelists.

Beals, 70, is vice president of the society’s 30-member Los Angeles-Orange chapter. A bookcase in his Tustin home holds volumes of pristine stamps on subjects such as bonsai trees and Winston Churchill along with stamps of Israel.

His own specialty is rare: Jewish charity seals of the last century, which he finds at stamp shows and on eBay. Only annual issues from the Jewish National Fund are commonly available. His quarry are obscure ones issued by 166 other groups, such as a "To Answer Coughlin" seal. Its recipients backed ads to undercut the anti-Semitic, Catholic radio commentator during the ’20s.

After researching the origin of each seal he finds, Beals’ adds a summary and a scanned picture of the seal to his catalog, now at 240 pages. About 100 like-minded collectors have purchased the volume, which was copyrighted in 2001 and self-published.

"I learn of more every day," he said, such as the intriguing $4 purchase he made recently online. A swastika outlined in Hebrew turned out to be two intertwined snakes bordered in Yiddish with a political message: "Do not buy merchandise from bloody Hitler’s country."

Elephant in the Valley


Used to be that every once in a blue moon, a rare Republican, who happened to be Jewish, would decide to run for office in the heavily Democratic San Fernando Valley, only to be soundly defeated at the polls.

This year, Jewish Republicans hope to change all that with three candidates: Robert M. Levy, who is running against Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); Connie Friedman, who is up against Jewish Democrat Lloyd Levine for former Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg’s old seat in the 40th District, which covers most of the San Fernando Valley, and newcomer Michael J. Wissot, who will compete against Assemblywoman Fran Pavley in the heavily Democratic 41st District, which is located partially in Ventura County.

Pavley originally won the seat in 2000 in a race against another Jewish Republican, Jayne Shapiro. What was interesting about Shapiro was that she was progressive on social issues and once said she would be a Democrat, but for the fact that she was a fiscal conservative. The new crop of Republicans is decidedly more traditional in their outlook, citing the interference of big government in people’s personal lives as the main reason behind their party affiliation.

"I believe where government is small and doesn’t interfere with people, then people are more free to practice their religion as they see fit," said Levy, 49, an attorney in private practice in West Hills. "As a Jew, it is important for me to see to it that I have the freedom to practice my religion as I want, without undue government interference."

Friedman, 60, a consultant who runs a human resources outsourcing business, voiced similar views.

"If you look at the values of Judaism and those of the Republican Party, they are very much in line," she said. "Republicans are very devoted to family issues; they think people should take personal responsibility for their actions, which is also a part of Judaism."

Friedman said she believes that more Jews would be Republican if there was more emphasis on concrete areas of government and less on controversial topics such as abortion and gay rights.

"I don’t think choosing to be a Democrat or a Republican should be based on social issues," she said. "Whether someone has an abortion or is in a homosexual relationship is a personal issue. To me, the issues that should be political are the economy, education and the things that make up our state’s infrastructure, like roads and electricity. If everyone can choose to have an abortion but our roads are bad and our educational system sucks, what difference will it make? Social issues should be personal, not political."

Levy attributes the continuing association of the vast majority of American Jews with the Democratic Party as a leftover tradition steeped in the patriotic fervor of World War II.

"It was a good idea to vote for Franklin Roosevelt, but Franklin Roosevelt isn’t around anymore," he joked. "The needs of America are different now, and I think most of the feelings and values of the Jewish people can be found, oddly enough, in both parties. Nowadays whether people are registered Republican or Democrat, they vote for the people, not the party."

He said one significant reason he has been a longtime member of the Republican Party is its ongoing support for Israel.

"The various Republican presidents and the Republican leadership have been much more friendly to the cause of Israel and to the need for Israel to exist than has the Democrat leadership," said Levy. "As disgraced as a president he was, Richard Nixon helped save the state of Israel during the latter part of his presidency by supporting Golda Meir. And look at President Bush and what he is doing for Israel. President Bush basically believes Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are terrorists and that Israel has the right to retaliate against terrorism."

For Wissot, 27, creator and managing general partner of dentistry.com, an online referral service for dentists nationwide, choosing the Republican Party was a natural outgrowth of what he was taught at his family’s shul, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.

"I grew up understanding the Torah as talking about being grateful but never being satisfied," he said. "That was something that had a profound effect on me throughout my Jewish education, and I strived to always be grateful for having a wonderful family and all these opportunities around me, but not to be satisfied with the status quo, to find ways to give back to the community. What I found in the Republican Party is that we should be thankful for where we have arrived, but we should not forget the future, we should not forget about giving back and tikkun olam. This is the party that is preparing for the future."

Although skepticism remains alive and a Republican’s chance of winning a Valley seat are slim, supporters contend there’s never been a better time to run.

"Until recently, Jewish Republicans were not taken very seriously," said Richard Sherman, a clinical psychologist who serves on the endorsements committee for the Republican Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles (RJCLA). "But there’s a reason why our organization has grown so quickly. To me, Jewish Republicans are more tolerant and more open-minded than Jewish Democrats. You come to our meetings and we’re talking about issues and questioning things. The Jewish Democrats are rank and file; they don’t even think, they just follow."

The RJCLA has endorsed Levy, Wissot and Friedman, who serves on the organization’s national governing board, as well as that of RJCLA.

"I really admire these people for having the courage to run," Sherman said. "The Valley used to be seen as Democrat, but I don’t know if it’s so Democrat-leaning anymore. A lot can happen between now and November. I’m struck by the idea that even a few months ago, people talking about the Valley becoming a separate city said there was no way it could happen, but now it is looking like more of a reality. So you never know."