Tоrоntо Real Estate – What you need to know

Whether уоu аrе invеѕting in a luxury dоwntоwn соndо, apartment оr hоmе fоr уоur fаmilу, thе Tоrоntо rеаl еѕtаtе market рrоvidеѕ invеѕtmеnt opportunities fоr everyone. Thе Tоrоntо rеаl еѕtаtе mаrkеt iѕ thе mоѕt рорulаr hоuѕing market in Cаnаdа. If уоu dесidе tо buу a hоmе in Tоrоntо rest аѕѕurеd that уоu will bе living in a сitу that hаѕ wоrld-сlаѕѕ аmеnitiеѕ, services, fасilitiеѕ, аnd еntеrtаinmеnt but not after you first seek соnѕultаtiоn оf condo lawyers in Tоrоntо for adequate cost-effective aid in helping you to realize this decision.

Toronto’s rеаl estate mаrkеt аnd аvаilаbilitу аrе ultimately based оn demographics: thеrе hаѕ bееn an influx оf оvеr a million new реорlе tо the Grеаtеr Toronto Arеа over thе lаѕt decade аnd thеrе iѕ still a mаѕѕivе ѕhоrtfаll оf a hоuѕing tо mееt the dеmаnd оf thеѕе nеw rеѕidеntѕ.

Furthеrmоrе, the ѕubрrimе market сriѕiѕ in thе Unitеd Stаtеѕ hаѕ mаnу hоmе buyers wоndеring what thе еffесt will bе оn hоuѕing mаrkеtѕ in Cаnаdа, ореning thе door tо unсеrtаintу and speculation оn thе Cаnаdiаn mаrkеt. The gооd nеwѕ for Cаnаdiаnѕ is thаt the hоuѕing market hаѕ been ѕеtting rесоrdѕ fоr vоlumе and unitѕ ѕоld for fivе consecutive уеаrѕ nоw despite thе рrоblеmѕ coming tо light in thе US.

“Thе ѕtаtiѕtiсѕ show juѕt hоw dуnаmiс thе Cаnаdiаn hоuѕing market wаѕ in 2007 in virtuаllу all parts of thе соuntrу,” said Ann Bosley, рrеѕidеnt оf CREA. Historical аnаlуѕiѕ of thе Tоrоntо market in particular shows that rеаl еѕtаtе fоr thе city, dеѕрitе оссаѕiоnаl dips, соntinuеѕ tо do wеll. Tаkе the Tоrоntо rеаl estate luxurу market аѕ аn еxаmрlе with house ѕаlеѕ in thе milliоn dollars plus range асrоѕѕ the Greater Tоrоntо Arеа (GTA) inсrеаѕing by mоrе thаn 20% in 2007 оvеr the 2006 figurеѕ.

A thriving Cаnаdiаn есоnоmу hаѕ mаnу ѕuburbаn dwеllеrѕ lеаving thе burbs bеhind tо mоvе back into thе сitiеѕ. If уоu fаll intо thiѕ саtеgоrу, when ѕеаrсhing fоr Tоrоntо homes оr condos fоr sale, уоu will nееd tо соllесt infоrmаtiоn about thе different аrеаѕ of the downtown соrе tо dеtеrminе if you аrе lооking in a “buyer’s market” оr a “seller’s mаrkеt”. Intеnѕе mаrkеt competition еnѕurеѕ thаt pricing cannot be rаiѕеd artificially, so the реорlе buуing homes and соndоѕ аrе mostly fаmiliеѕ оr the downtown wоrkfоrсе, not ѕресulаtivе invеѕtоrѕ.

Nоt only iѕ thе Tоrоntо housing mаrkеt doing well, but nеwlу constructed Tоrоntо соndоѕ are also in vеrу high demand. With еасh passing уеаr, Toronto соndоѕ аrе bесоming a biggеr part оf tоtаl Tоrоntо rеаl еѕtаtе mаrkеt. Exciting nеw homes аnd соndоѕ аrе bеing соnѕtruсtеd in аrеаѕ likе Eglinton / Yоngе and King St. / Bаthurѕt that оffеr residents access to the еxсitеmеnt оf dоwntоwn Tоrоntо whilе still bеing in a calm, сlеаn аnd safe аrеа. Thе mоѕt рорulаr аrеаѕ to invest аrе projects аlоng the subway, сlоѕе to downtown аnd аt key intеrѕесtiоnѕ аlоng the Yоngе – Blооr соrridоrѕ.

The Tоrоntо соndо mаrkеt is аn excellent alternative to home оwnеrѕhiр particularly if you аrе a first-time property buуеr or lооking to downsize уоur current invеѕtmеnt. The еvеr-inсrеаѕing cost оf a hоmе in today’s Tоrоntо rеаl еѕtаtе mаrkеt iѕ mаking it vеrу hard for a large реrсеntаgе of the рорulаtiоn tо bесоmе hоmеоwnеrѕ. Condos also rерrеѕеnt ѕоund Tоrоntо rеаl estate rеntаl invеѕtmеntѕ аllоwing would bе оwnеrѕ tо increase the vаluе of their еԛuitу. Mоѕt home buуеrѕ wаnt tо get good vаluе fоr thеir money while аt the same time getting a property thаt iѕ in a аn area geographically thаt thеу аrе соmfоrtаblе with.

If аnd whеn уоu dо decide to invеѕt in the Tоrоntо real еѕtаtе mаrkеt, mаkе ѕurе to secure thе соnѕultаtiоn of condo lаwуеrs in Tоrоntо. In the аnу real еѕtаtе transaction, our condo lawyers will handle; thе dееd, thе bill оf sale, mоrtgаgе arrangements, promissory nоtе, titlе commitment and the closing ѕtаtеmеntѕ оn уоur bеhаlf. Gеtting a gооd interest rаtе оn your mоrtgаgе iѕ аlѕо сruсiаl tо bеing able tо afford уоur investment аnd аvоiding fоrесlоѕurе.

But once again, a соnѕultаtiоn оf condo lawyers in Tоrоntо iѕ highly rесоmmеndеd for еffесtivе аdviѕе аnd rеѕult driven purpose. Whether they are асting аѕ уоur advisors or advocates, the lаwуеrѕ рrоvidе a personalized, common ѕеnѕе аррrоасh that iѕ рrасtiсаl, timеlу аnd соѕt-еffесtivе for you.

Mistakes to avoid when presenting your house

It’s often hard to remain objective when assessing those things that are near and dear to your heart. Like, for instance, your home.

If you’re preparing to sell your house and want to create the best presentation for prospective buyers, you need to keep an open mind about how it looks to outsiders. Doing so will help you avoid these common presentation blunders:

1. Poorly Maintained

If your house doesn’t look well-maintained potential buyers will assume that they’re going to have to spend time and money on repairs and basic maintenance. Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you, be sure to make the necessary repairs to your home before you put it on the market. Your real estate agent can help you spot necessary details as he works for his real estate agent commission.

2. No House Number

Selling your house won’t be easy if buyers can’t find it or have trouble locating it. That said, make sure that you have a house number that’s easily visible and in good repair.

3. Pet Smells

Having a loving and well-loved pet is a highlight for many homeowners. But pet smells, and pet messes are a turnoff to many buyers, so do everything you can to remove smells and evidence of your pets before you begin to show your home.

4. Lack of Light

Proper lighting can create a sense of space and improve the overall impression of your home. Open all curtain and blinds, clean your windows, and trim away foliage outside the home that blocks the light. You may want to use additional lighting to improve the look and feel of a room.

5. Too Much Furniture

An over-abundance of furniture will make a room look and feel smaller than it is. Create space between pieces of furniture and even remove some of it temporarily as you open your home to potential buyers.

6. Poor Street Appeal

The first impression a buyer gets when they first see your house from the outside may determine whether they come inside for a closer look or drive away. Here are some things you can do to improve your home’s curb appeal:

  • Make sure your fence, post box, and street number are in good condition. If not, replace them.
  • Whatever you do, don’t neglect your landscaping. Make sure your lawn is mowed, remove any weeds, and prune and cut any foliage that looks messy.
  • Don’t ignore the importance of your front door. It’s one of the first things buyers notice and consider giving yours a makeover, whether it entails a new paint job or adding new door knob or knocker.
  • Clean the dirt from your garage doors, walls, walkways, and driveway. Your walls may benefit from a fresh coat of paint, as well.

7. Ignoring Clutter

Too much clutter can quickly scare away a potential buyer. Decluttering each room will make your home appear bigger, more spacious, as well as cleaner and tidier. Remove anything that you don’t need – such as ornaments, knick-knacks, extra chairs, etc.

8. A Poor Bathroom of Kitchen

Your bathrooms and kitchen are the rooms that many buyers will inspect the most. They need to be cleared of clutter to make them appear more spacious and may benefit from new light fixtures, hardware, and even a fresh coat of paint.

9. Selling an Empty House

Empty rooms look smaller and are uninviting to many buyers. Furniture and other items in rooms provide thought-starters for buyers who imagine themselves living in your home.

10. Cleanliness

Most buyers are unwilling to look past dirty floors and bathrooms. While it might not bother you, it’s important to remember that buyers are seeing it for.

Real-estate mogul Fred Sands talks business, giving and rock ’N’ roll

If the name Fred Sands sounds familiar, that’s because it was once ubiquitous on real-estate signs across Southern California. That was before Sands sold his business, Fred Sands Realtors, to Coldwell Banker in 2000. 

Today, the 75-year-old Wilshire Boulevard Temple congregant, who lives in Bel Air with his wife, Carla, serves as chairman of Vintage Real Estate, a company that purchases regional shopping malls in distress and transforms them into successful enterprises.

Philanthropy is his other business: In 2012, he donated $500,000 to his synagogue, and he recently donated what he described as “many millions of dollars” to endow the Fred Sands Institute of Real Estate at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. The school honored him June 24 with a gala event at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, and a week later he participated in an hourlong, freewheeling conversation with the Journal at his Brentwood-based office about shopping malls, his love of music and Donald Trump running for president. An edited version of that interview follows. 

Jewish Journal: Why did you decide to give a donation to Pepperdine?

Fred Sands: Pepperdine is a wonderful school, and they are going to have a real-estate program [like USC and UCLA do] now. [Pepperdine President] Andrew Benton, he is an amazing man. At the [June 24] event, he got on the stage and rocked: singing, playing guitar — the president!

JJ: Did you rock out?

FS: Yeah, absolutely. In many facets. 

JJ: Do you play anything?

FS: No.

JJ: But you enjoy music?

FS: I like rock. I like classical. The Hollywood Bowl — you have classical and you also have jazz. I love blues and jazz. I love music. … I love James Brown. I saw James Brown at the Hollywood Bowl. Quite a life, the rockers. Getting arthritis these days, but they perform well. Look at the Rolling Stones.

JJ: How do you feel about the new program at Pepperdine being named after you? 

FS: I have mixed feelings. When I sold my company, I said to Coldwell Banker, “In a year, it’s a transition away from Fred Sands.” I got tired of being so well known. It was great for restaurant reservations, but I said I wanted to be out of the limelight. … But Benton said, “It’s got to be the Fred Sands Institute of Real Estate.” So, I’m back in the limelight again, but not in the same way as before. 

JJ: Do you think a mall can be used to revitalize neighborhoods? Have you seen that happen? 

FS: [Yes, in] Carson. We bought a mall during bad years and turned it around, and Carson has improved. We just got them a 12-screen movie theater. They hadn’t had a theater in 30 years, and it sort of revitalized the neighborhood, and it’s good. People shop; go to the movies and restaurants.

JJ: What do you think of an outdoor mall versus an indoor mall?

FS: Every mall we own is an outdoor mall, and people said they are not building them anymore, that they are going to go away. Every one [of the 12] we bought, we turned them around. We are still turning them around. It’s good. 

JJ: Who are people you respect in the real-estate world? 

FS: [Westfield Corp. Co-CEO and TRIBE Media Corp. Chairman] Peter Lowy is someone I admire. I really admire his father [Frank Lowy]. That’s a story — his formal education ended at age 13. … He was hiding from the Nazis, would go out at night and steal food for his mother. He then went to Israel, fought the Arabs, went to Australia, opened a deli. There was land behind it called the West Field and he built a whole shopping center, and the rest is history. He became the second-wealthiest man in Australia. … His story is amazing. 

JJ: What are your thoughts on real-estate mogul Donald Trump running for president? 

FS: He’s a joke. He likes the publicity because that’s how he lives. He’s not really a real-estate guy. He licenses his name and surrounds himself with publicity. And he might show up in the polls right now, but that’s going to go away. 

JJ: He’s not really a real-estate guy?

FS: He’s done some deals in his life but has made his money off of licensing fees. Trump this, Trump that, and he gets fees on his business. 

JJ: What’s next for you?

FS: To continue to take care of my health. I work out almost everyday. I’ve had some issues not taking good care of myself, so from now on, it’s working out every day. It’s all fun. Philanthropy, good friends. Going to see people out in Malibu this weekend. It’s all good. It’s all good. 

Hail, Caesarstone!

As California’s real estate market continues its recovery and spring remodeling season is poised to start, many homeowners are once again looking for enduring ways to rejuvenate their living spaces and add value to their homes. Not surprisingly, the rooms that get the most use — kitchens and bathrooms — are often the first to command attention.

More unexpected is where the materials come from that many are choosing for their stone countertops and vanities: Israel.

Since 1987, an Israeli company called Caesarstone has been a pioneer of the natural quartz surfaces market, producing countertops that forge function and fashion. The firm is owned by Kibbutz Sdot Yam on the Mediterranean Sea, just south of the ancient city of Caesarea, but its U.S. operations are based closer to home, in Van Nuys. 

“It’s not just the stone itself that consumers respond to,” said Sagi Cohen, CEO of Caesarstone U.S., who was born in Israel. “People also appreciate the fact that it is a totally Israeli product, from development of the technology that makes the countertops worth the investment to the state-of-the-art production line, to the fact that it is an Israeli company Americans can get behind in their overall support of Israel.”

In the quarter-century since its inception, the company has come a long way. In the early days, according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Caesarstone nearly drowned in production problems. Now its products are sold in more than 40 countries, including most of Europe and Australia. Nine months ago, Caesarstone experienced a financial milestone by becoming the first stone company to be publicly traded on the NASDAQ.

Don’t think of its products as simple pieces of rock. Moshe Narkis, of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, is credited with developing a proprietary formula and process for treating these quartz slabs, paving the way for a new generation of harder, impermeable, stain-resistant counters. 

One result is that Caesarstone became one of the first stone companies to certify its countertop materials as kosher. This is possible because the manufacturing process eliminates natural stone imperfections while preventing chipping, cracking and discoloration from heavy use. The quartz is combined with high-quality polymer resins and pigments and compacted under intense vibration, vacuum and pressure. The final product is a surface that resists damage from heat, cold, food, acids, caustic wine spills and knife scratches, which could store bacteria and compromise the preparation and purity of kosher food, Cohen said. 

Today, the company boasts more than 50 colors of slabs from which to choose, along with a variety of unusual textures and patterns. Some of the most cutting-edge textures include crocodile and lace-embossed designs, while some of the most striking hues in the collection (Ruby Reflections, Chocolate Truffle and Starry Night) are fashioned from recycled stone.

Maggie Amir, Caesarstone’s brand manager, is also the company’s arbiter of style in guiding consumers and designers in how to achieve looks for kitchens and vanities that are at once trendsetting and timeless. She leans toward bright, vibrant décor schemes incorporating surfaces that enliven and enlarge a room’s visual scope.

“A lot of families spend a good amount of time in the kitchen, and cooking itself is an uplifting activity,” Amir said. “Therefore, you want to surround yourself in an environment that is uplifting and encourages conversation. … From my perspective, the countertop colors we offer have a lot to do with creating the illusion of space. To open out the kitchen’s look, look to lighter colors to make the impression the room is bigger than it actually is.”

Dan Brunn, a Los Angeles-based architect and Caesarstone customer, said the company’s product allows him to express himself freely in form, color and texture.

“Every one of my projects has elements born from Caesarstone, from my first restaurant, Yojisan Sushi, to high-end private beach homes,” he said. “I can call upon Caesarstone to help in trying out new applications or techniques.”

In terms of its environmental commitment, Caesarstone was the first stone company to receive ISO 14001 certification, a global standard specifically for environmental protection. From recycling 97 percent of the water used in manufacturing to collecting dust from shipping, handling, production and processing, Caesarstone has earned high marks.  

Cohen, the CEO of Caesarstone U.S., said the company contributes to other causes, too.

“We are fortunate to have been involved in both Jewish organizations and general causes the public can relate to,” he said.

One philanthropic effort in which the company is participating is Coasters for the Cause, set up to raise money for the American Red Cross to aid those affected by Hurricane Sandy. One-of-a-kind artist-designed coasters retailing for $10 are being sold online at caesarstoneus.com, and the company has announced it will match sales up to $10,000.  

Cohen said that the company is a supporter of Larger Than Life, raising money for children with cancer as well as funding trips enabling Israeli children with cancer to visit the United States. Caesarstone also is an active member of the Israeli Leadership Council.

“Jewish consumers look for good products with proven benefits, value proposition and getting what you pay for,” Cohen said.  “Even in advertisements for rentals and home sales, a lot of the real estate people drop the Caesarstone name in the advertising to the point where the name is becoming a generic term synonymous for quality. We also want this important value attached to our name to carry over into our philanthropic efforts.”

Pioneers in the Los Angeles Arts District

The roof of Yuval Bar-Zemer’s condo is a very nice place to be.

It’s mid-summer, and a grape arbor thick with leaves and hard green fruit winds along one side of it. There’s a pond, fig trees, several raised beds filled with herbs and vegetables, and, just around the corner, a swimming pool.

Oh, and then there’s the view: A few blocks west is downtown Los Angeles’ skyline. A couple of blocks east lies a forbidding stretch of the concrete-lined Los Angeles River. You could heave a rock to the north and hit the enduring shame of Skid Row. And in every direction are boarded-up industrial buildings, half-empty warehouses and abandoned railroad tracks. Or, what Bar-Zemer calls: the future.

Bar-Zemer lives on the top floor of the Toy Factory building, near Seventh and Alameda streets. As a partner in the real estate development firm Linear City, Bar-Zemer and his colleague Leonard Hill, a former television writer, have been at the forefront of efforts not only to rebuild and repopulate downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District, but also to do it in a way that creates green, sustainable neighborhoods.

“What we think about,” Bar-Zemer told me, “is what would be the best model for a community? How do you do that?”

The thought process becomes clear as you walk through Bar-Zemer’s and Hill’s developments. Their Toy Factory Lofts, Biscuit Company Lofts and new 7 & Bridge developments fill massive old buildings with hip live/work lofts. They held back from selling ground-floor condos, which would have reaped larger profits, and instead leased the space to what would become some of downtown’s best new restaurants: Church & State, Pour Haus, Daily Dose and Little Bear. A suitably cool quick-mart and a soon-to-open new concept urban supermarket, The Urban Radish, supply tenants.

Where trains used to haul goods from San Pedro, Bar-Zemer and Hill have introduced something else: nature. Bar-Zemer ripped up pavement to put in garden plots for tenants, installed dense courtyards of native plants and set up Los Angeles’ first 480v fast-charge station for electric cars. Linear City also provided the first two Nissan Leaf cars to kick start a community car sharing program on the Wheelz platform.

“In five years,” Bar-Zemer said, “we have changed the perception of the Arts District.”

For a guy who grows grapes on downtown roofs, it’s not surprising to discover that Bar-Zemer helped turn a corner of Israel’s desert green. A native Jerusalemite, he did part of his army service building Kibbutz Sufa in the Negev. After, he studied tenor saxophone at the prestigious Rubin Academy of Music. (Bar-Zemer’s father is a leading bassoonist — fittingly, their last name in Hebrew means “son of melody.”)

Bar-Zemer took a break, hooked up with Israeli army buddies in London, then visited Los Angeles.

“I came for a weekend, and stayed,” he said.

Bar-Zemer worked as an electrician, his army pals from Garin Nahal as gardeners and electricians. The trio then decided to try their hand at fixing up and flipping houses, forming Dekel Construction & Development, Hebrew for palm tree. After returning from an extended visit in Israel, Bar-Zemer rejoined his friends in their new company, CIM. Eventually the old army buddies from Kibbutz Sufa would go on to develop and own Hollywood & Highland as well as other major Southland projects.

“Not bad for a gardener and an electrician,” Hill observed.

By then Bar-Zemer had left to join forces with developer Paul Solomon and Hill, a former TV writer and producer who started in the business scripting shows for Jack Webb, such as “Adam-12.” Hill handles the financing; Bar-Zemer oversees the construction (Solomon has since moved on).

While much of downtown development focused on the core areas like Broadway, Linear City turned their sights on the 250 million square foot Toy Factory building, constructed in 1924 for the Star Truck Warehousing Company and later purchased by the Ace Novelty and Play-by-Play companies.

“We bought the building naively believing conversion was a simple process,” Hill said.

The two fought bureaucrats and skeptics. But Hill was able to fund the project himself, and Bar-Zemer fielded a team of experts he’d developed over the years, going all the way back to his kibbutz days. As soon as the projects were finished, they filled. 

The Toy Factory was assessed at $2.7 million when Linear bought it in 2002. After the project sold out, its assessed value was $60 million.

“All in all, it’s been an economic engine,” Hill said. 

The restaurants and stores have brought dozens of new jobs, young people flock to the streets, and green space has multiplied. The Israeli and the Jewish Angeleno have created the capitalist, urban kibbutz.

The two are now working on similarly transforming architect William Pereira’s 1973 Metropolitan Water District building in Echo Park as well as other projects. They also produced a feature film, the romantic comedy “Dorfman,” set against the part of the city they love.

I spent the afternoon with Bar-Zemer and Hill, gazing out across the city from Bar-Zemer’s rooftop garden, eating at a recently opened Daily Dose cafe by some reclaimed railroad tracks, walking with Hill through the large empty spaces that would be two new restaurants, and ending, finally, at the EV charging station to juice up my Leaf. 

“We see ourselves as pioneers,” Hill told me. “And this is the new frontier.”

Writer discovers California ‘Gold’ in banking ancestor Isaias Hellman

“Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California” by Frances Dinkelspiel (St. Martin’s Press, $29.95)

Searching for ways to deal with the current economic crisis, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson could take a cue from Isaias Hellman, banker, capitalist and California visionary. More than once during financial panics in the 19th century, when bank runs were a too-frequent and devastating occurrence, Hellman resorted to a dramatic ploy to restore calm and confidence. He stacked massive towers of gold coins on the counter of his Farmers and Merchants Bank in Los Angeles.

Half a million dollars in plain view “was a tonic,” his great-great-granddaughter Frances Dinkelspiel writes in “Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California” (St. Martin’s Press). It was a sight that stopped withdrawals cold and even attracted deposits. Everyone, customers and competitors, seemed to trust Hellman’s faith that better times were ahead.

A grand gesture, his towers of gold represented not only Hellman’s keen sense of the public psyche when hard times arose but his own confidence in the opportunities and resources of California. Hellman was an essential part, according to Dinkelspiel, of the generation that built the economic engines and defined the social institutions of California. In that role and company, Hellman was arguably the single most powerful and influential Jew in the United States from the last quarter of the 19th century until his death in 1920.

A fifth-generation Californian and Bay Area journalist, Dinkelspiel grew up with little knowledge of her illustrious ancestor. She discovered in the Hellman papers at the California Historical Society “every reporter’s dream: an unknown story about a critical chapter in the country’s history.”

Sifting through extensive correspondence, ledgers, newspaper clippings and diaries, she realized that Hellman was a titan of his time, “California’s premier financier” when the state shed its isolation and became an economic force.

She soon was on a seven-year quest to re-insert Hellman into California history and expand the record of Jewish immigrant success beyond Levi Strauss (who was just one of several pioneer co-religionists helped by Hellman to build unimaginable fortunes).

Hellman arrived in Los Angeles from Bavaria in 1859, a few months shy of his 17th birthday. Still more Mexican than American and with a population of less than 5,000, Los Angeles was home to maybe 150 Jews, almost all merchants who belonged to a handful of extended families. Accompanied by his younger brother, Herman, and with less than $100 between them, Hellman went to work as a clerk in a cousin’s store.

Within a few years, Hellman was buying his own store, developing commercial property in the center of Los Angeles and going into business with men “who considered themselves the problem solvers” of the region. Men such as John G. Downey, an Irish immigrant and former governor of California, were eager to capitalize on the sterling reputation and business acumen of the 29-year-old when Hellman invited them to become shareholders in the Farmers and Merchants Bank.

Farmers and Merchants proved to be the city’s first successful financial institution. It also became Hellman’s springboard to a West Coast banking empire that by 1915 had resources totaling more than $100 million. The crown jewel in that empire was the Wells Fargo Nevada Bank.

In 1890, Hellman was tapped to save the Nevada Bank, a San Francisco firm that counted the Southern Pacific Railroad among its biggest customers. When capitalist E.H. Harriman decided to spin off the banking business of Wells Fargo, he approached Hellman to take charge of merging two of the state’s oldest establishments and creating one of the West’s largest financial institutions.

While Hellman had family ties to New York and European capitalists (his brother-in-law was Meyer Lehman of the Lehman Brothers commodity house), the roots of Hellman’s success were in his local connections. He persistently partnered with friends and neighbors, Jews and non-Jews, first in Los Angeles and later in San Francisco. As his success grew, he promoted California investment opportunities to Lehman Brothers and other prominent Jewish firms in the East and increased the wealth on both coasts.

As an investor, adviser and leader, Hellman extended his success and influence over several other major industries in California. He partnered with Collis and Henry E. Huntington to develop railroads and trolley lines in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He loaned Charles Canfield and Edward Doheny $500 to purchase the land where they sunk the first free-flowing oil well in Los Angeles.

Hellman was the largest shareholder in the Los Angeles Water Co., a private firm that developed the city’s water system in the 19th century, and personally sold a $14.5 million bond issue for the Spring Valley Water Co. that supplied San Francisco. Having early in his career invested in vineyards, in 1901 Hellman took control of the California wine industry, standardizing the product and elevating the reputation of the industry around the world. In addition, he developed land all over Los Angeles County, owned property in San Francisco and built a vacation retreat at Lake Tahoe that eventually became a state park.

Hellman’s influence on Los Angeles is still evident today. In an instance where capitalism and philanthropy met, Jewish Hellman, Protestant Ozro Childs and Catholic Downey donated 110 acres to the Methodist founders of USC. The land was in the center of the partners’ subdivision at the southwest edge of the city. They also extended the trolley line they owned from downtown to the new campus.

Their generosity gave potential land buyers a destination and a convenient way to get there. The city had a university, and the partners saw their land triple in value.

Hellman helped create another L.A. institution when he advised Harrison Gray Otis to buy out his partner in the Los Angeles Times and then provided the $18,000 loan required to put the paper in Otis’ hands. Otis’ descendants, the Chandler family, sold the massive media company that evolved for $8 billion in 2000.

Hellman’s leadership went beyond the world of finance and business. When Los Angeles’ first synagogue was built in 1872, he was president of Congregation B’nai B’rith, now known as Wilshire Boulevard Temple. He served as a regent of the University of California for more than 30 years and endowed a scholarship fund still supporting students. He took a leading role in the recovery of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Beneficiaries of his philanthropy ranged from Catholic orphans to World War I Jewish European refugees.

While unquestionably Hellman achieved the immigrant’s dream of success and acceptance in America, there were times when he was the target of anti-Jewish sentiments and anti-Semitic behavior. He and his companies also were subject to the wrath of unionists and socialists, progressive reformers and even betrayal by family members. His wealth, influence and fame brought both friends and enemies.

In its plain sense, the biography of Hellman is a story of nearly unfettered opportunity to apply one’s skills and realize one’s ambition. The openness of the American frontier stood in stark contrast to the restrictions on livelihood and residency most Jewish Europeans left behind. At a deeper level, Hellman’s story is a reminder that it took skill, ambition and connections to transform that frontier into part of the United States and create a state that today has a gross domestic product larger than all but eight countries in the world.

Jews were notably among the diverse contributors of those necessary ingredients, as they have continued to be, for example, the Stern, Haas and Goldman families in San Francisco and the Factor, Taper, Casden and Lowy families in Los Angeles.

To her credit, Dinkelspiel presents a well-developed and even-handed portrayal of Hellman and his extended family. The biography maintains a solid historical context in which to understand the perspectives, philosophy and values of a gilded-age capitalist. His German-American-Jewish sense of responsibility to family, community, customers, investors, competitors and the future comes through clearly. Through the vehicle of one man and his networks of family, friends and associates, the foundational place in California history of Jewish immigrants generally is illuminated, as well.

Well-researched and highly readable, “Towers of Gold” makes an important contribution to both the history of the Golden State and the history of Jews in America. It is a very strong case for the veracity of the volume’s subtitle — “How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California” — demonstrating the key role of Hellman in the urban and economic development of California.

It also adds a fresh perspective on the Jewish immigrants from Central Europe who in the mid-19th century joined in the continental expansion of the United States and set down roots in emerging communities. As historian Kevin Starr has noted, frontier California was influenced by “Jewish values and sensibility” in ways unprecedented anywhere else in the nation.

Hellman’s life and accomplishments illustrated that influence, and this biography brings attention to its still-unfolding consequences.

Karen S. Wilson is a doctoral candidate in history at UCLA and curator for the upcoming Autry National Center exhibition on the history of Jews in Los Angeles.

Nathan Shapell, real estate developer and philanthropist, 85

Nathan Shapell, renowned real estate developer and prominent philanthropist known throughout California, the United States, and Israel has passed away. He was 85.

Shapell, Chairman & CEO of Shapell Industries, one of the most successful and highly respected homebuilders in California, died in his sleep on March 11, 2007, while on a vacation cruise.

Nathan Shapell was a man of integrity and principle, a builder of lives who dedicated his life to helping others less fortunate. A survivor of the Holocaust, he was determined to not only rebuild his own life, but to help others rebuild theirs.

As Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Shapell Industries, Nathan Shapell personified the word “entrepreneur.” Along with brother, David, and brother-in-law, Max Webb, Nathan Shapell built one of the most successful real estate development companies in California that is recognized today as an industry leader. In recognition of his accomplishments, the Building Industry of California inducted him into the Builder’s Hall of Fame in 2001. Shapell’s philosophy was based upon the high priority he placed on family, community, and home — the very things that Hitler and the Nazis stole from him at a very early age.

Born in Poland, Nathan Shapell spent World War II as a prisoner of the infamous Buchenwald and Auschwitz Concentration Camps where most of his family members including his mother, were executed. After Hitler’s reign of terror ended, Shapell devoted himself to helping thousands of bewildered and angry Holocaust survivors. His efforts landed him in Munchberg, Germany, in charge of building housing complexes for the displaced war survivors, and representing them before American military panels responsible for ruling on requests to immigrate to America. It was there that he met a young female translator, Lilly Schreiber, who would become his wife and partner in life. In 1952, Nathan and Lilly Shapell, along with their daughter Vera, immigrated to the United States to start a new life. Lilly Shapell, his wife of 48 years, passed away in 1994. Shapell chronicled the early years of his life in his autobiography, Witness to the Truth.

Shapell dedicated a major portion of his life to public service. He was a past President and Executive Board Member of the American Academy of Achievement and served as a Member of President Reagan’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control.

He founded and Co-Chaired Building a Better Los Angeles, a one-time project which raised over $1 million for the homeless. In 1987, he accepted the position of President of D.A.R.E. America, a renowned drug abuse resistance education program.

In 1992, California Governor Pete Wilson appointed him to serve as a member of the California Competitiveness Council and develop recommendations to revitalize California’s economy. In 1998, Senate President Pro-Tem Bill Lockyer appointed him to a special blue ribbon commission to help alleviate California’s overcrowding of prisons.

Shapell’s greatest public contributions may have been made through his 29 years of service on California’s “Little Hoover Commission”.

AsChairman for an unprecedented 18 years of this one-of-a-kind Commission, he was the longest, continuously serving chairman of a state commission in the 20th century. During his long tenure, he helped save taxpayers literally billions of dollars and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians in areas that included nursing home operations, children’s services, property management, transportation, the Medi-Cal program, and public education.

Nathan Shapell’s commitment to service on behalf of the public was recognized in 1986 when the University of Santa Clara bestowed upon him an honorary Doctorate of Public Service degree. In 1987, Tel Aviv University awarded Shapell a Doctor Philosophiae Honoris Causa.

Shapell was a major philanthropist here in America, as well as in Israel. He was a Founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was appointed by President George H. W. Bush and reappointed twice by President Bill Clinton to its governing council.

He was also a major donor to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust museum and memorial. He recognized the vital importance of education and was a major donor to the University of Santa Clara, USC, as well as Tel Aviv University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He supported numerous charities for children and healthcare including the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the D.A.R.E. program, Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, and a variety of education initiatives.

As a result of Shapell’s surviving the Holocaust, he was extremely dedicated to the State of Israel. He traveled to the front lines to provide moral support for IDF soldiers during the Sinai War, Six Day War, and Yom Kippur War, and was frequently consulted by the country’s leaders. He built parks, schools and facilities for children and university students, as well as for the well-being of Israels soldiers.

Shapell is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Vera and Paul Guerin; grand-children, Lisa, Dana, and Michael; and three great-grandchildren, as well as his brother David Shapell and brother-in-law Max Webb.

Services for Nathan Shapell will be held on Tuesday, March 13th at11:00 am at Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary located at 6001 West Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles.

In lieu of flowers, the Guerin family requests that donations be made to either Friends of the Israel Defense Forces or to Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Pulmonary Diseases Program.

Prefab housing gets ‘fab’

“I try not to drive on Shabbos, except, of course, to go to open houses,” explained a woman of a certain age and uncertain religious persuasion.

Maybe the curiosity was whetted when wandering in the desert for 40 years, in the ancient past, looking for a place to put down roots and build a temple, or perhaps in the last decade, wandering over the Westside looking at houses for sale.

Whatever, the fact is that the preoccupation with real estate in Southern California for many Jews, as well as others of every belief and culture enraptured with the American dream, has taken on something akin to the search for the Holy Grail.

Flavoring this quest is a growing awareness of the aesthetics of architecture and interior design, not only for how it might enhance the value of select properties, but also for how it might heighten the level of casual conversation about everyone’s favorite topic — real estate.

With this interest in mind, you might want to check out an exhibit at the Pacific Design Center’s extension of the Museum of Contemporary Art, titled, “Some Assembly Required: Contemporary Prefabricated Houses.” It opens Feb. 28 and runs through May 13.

The show has been making the rounds across the country — to critical acclaim — for more than a year, and it spotlights the creations and conceits of several designers, including the local architecture firm of Marmol Radziner and Associates.

They, as well as other architects scattered around the country, have been struggling with how to make prefabricated homes look less like container boxes or house trailers and instead be more flexible, artfully modern, reasonably priced, and ecologically friendly.

Prefab indeed has the potential to lend itself to being “green” by using materials more efficiently, wasting less space, and generally creating structures that are lower maintenance. Think the frugal Prius in the land of lumbering SUVs.

The exhibition features eight varied projects, displayed through an appropriate mélange of video, photographs, drawings, renderings, material samples and scale models. Singled out for a full-scale mock-up is the so-called FlatPak House, designed by the Lazor Office of Minneapolis, which offers various choices in materials and layouts, thereby providing maximum flexibility for potential clients.

Offering choices is a key goal in this new wave of prefabricated design: The designers obviously are trying to downplay the down-scale reputation of factory-built homes, emphasizing customization and craftsmanship in order to appeal to more sophisticated, up-scale buyers.

“The overall dimensions and sections are simple enough that people can easily customize to make it their own,” said architect Michelle Kaufman, in an interview with Dwell magazine, describing her Glidehouse design. “There is a range of plan options as well.

All have the same basic box configuration and details to maintain the benefit of mass production, but depending on how you put the boxes together, you can have an L-shape, or a courtyard U-shape, or a long plan for a lot with views. There is quite a bit of flexibility so the house can be configured to fit the site and the way the owner lives.”

Kaufman concluded: “People are starting to see the benefits of both green living and modular building construction. When you put those together, it is a great combination.”

Yes, but at what price? More customization equals higher costs, negating one of the major appeals of prefab and the hope of its past innovators. Through its long history, dating back to the middle of the 18th century, the allure of prefab housing included the promise of lower costs through efficiency of materials and labor, as well as the ability to accelerate and streamline construction.

To be sure, the range of prefabs on display in this exhibition indicate some cost saving, but when all the adds-ons are calculated and the total cost is projected, the savings are not particularly impressive or encouraging.

Also to be considered are the persistent problems that have plagued such efforts in the past, including antiquated and inconsistent municipal codes and the reluctance of financial institutions to finance “manufactured” housing. However, exhibitions such as “Some Assembly Required” — along with the pressing need for less expensive, green housing — no doubt will help overcome institutional and government resistance. Or so we hope.

Unfortunately, not included in the exhibition, because it was not completed when the show was being organized, is the so-called “Living Home.” It was designed by the venerable architect and venerated founder of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, Ray Kappe, who has been experimenting with prefab systems for nearly half a century.

The house features an array of green materials and a solar power system, which prompted the design to win a coveted environmental award. It can be seen in situ at 2914 Highland Avenue, tucked away in the southeast corner of Santa Monica.

Please don’t disturb the residents.

“Some Assembly Required: Contemporary Prefabricated Houses” opens Feb. 28 at MOCA at the Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Avenue, Design Plaza G102,
West Hollywood, CA 90069. Admission is free.

For information call: (310) 289-5223.
Web link: IFF: Engaging in disengagement — five horrible days in Gaza

R.E. Hard Crash? Soft Landing? Bursting Balloon? Leaking Balloon?

Mark Cohen thinks those doomsday scenarios about an impending Southland housing crash miss the mark. And the founder and president of Beverly Hills-based Cohen Financial Group has learned a thing or two about real estate over the last 20 years.

With an MBA from USC and a law degree from Loyola Law School, the 47-year-old mortgage broker helped secure nearly $1.1 billion in home loans last year, making him the No. 1 individual mortgage loan originator in the country, according to Mortgage Originator Magazine.

When not spending time with his three children and wife Laurie, Cohen has been involved in the local Jewish community.

A member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Real Estate and Construction Division, Cohen has also played an active role at Sinai Temple for more than two decades. He and his wife have long supported ATID (which translates as future in Hebrew), a Sinai program that trains future Jewish leaders. They also recently contributed funds toward the writing of a new Torah.

The Jewish Journal spoke to Cohen about the recent reversal in the local housing market.

Jewish Journal: Why has the housing market slowed in Southern California?

Mark Cohen: Southern California is a great place to live, which is why so many people want to live here. However, that also means the supply of apartments, houses and condos is limited. Over time, this supply-and-demand situation in housing has pushed prices up dramatically, pricing many people completely out of the market. Added to this are the interest-rate hikes by the Fed. Rates have increased by about 2 1/2 percent over the past few years, and that has made the cost of borrowing more expensive, closing the door on even more potential homeowners.

JJ: If the Fed raises interest rates to keep inflation in check, will that help or hurt the market?

MC: The jury is still out on whether or not the Fed will continue to raise rates. It all depends on whether or not they can keep inflation under control. If there are more rate increases in the near future, they will likely have a negative effect on the market in the short term. However, if the Fed is successful in keeping inflation in check, they can keep the door open for future rate cuts should there be a slowdown in the economy. Recent economic reports are showing that inflation has moderated for the time being, which means the Fed’s tightening cycle may be over. And that would have a positive impact on the real estate market.

JJ: What areas of the Southland are most at risk of having the bottom drop out? Why?

MC: It’s difficult to single out specific areas in Southern California that have the most risk. However, right now, San Diego seems to have an oversupply of new condominiums on the market due to all the speculation that occurred over the past few years. There’s also usually a deeper correction in areas where there has been excess in new construction. Palm Springs is an example of this. On the other side of the coin, the Westside, South Bay and San Fernando Valley will likely fare better during a slowdown because of the lack of new construction, limited supply of homes and desirability.

All in all, Southern California is a great place to live and historically, over time, real estate here has proven to be a great investment.

JJ: Do you anticipate a hard or soft landing locally?

MC: A soft lading will depend on several factors. First, the direction of interest rates will have a big impact, as will the strength of the local economy. As long as jobs are being created and the economy stays at its current growth levels, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll experience a hard landing.

Obviously, the actions by the Fed in the next few months will affect the local real estate market for the foreseeable future.

JJ: How long do you expect the market to remain soft?

MC: It really depends on the economy. If we have continued job creation and continued economic growth, the market will recover more quickly. Fewer jobs created and slower growth will mean a longer slowdown. The real driving force behind the real estate market isn’t interest rates; it’s the economy. That’s because even though fixed-interest rates have risen recently, they are still at manageable levels.

JJ: How is this housing market of today different from the boom-and-bust cycle of the late 1980s and early 1990s?

MC: This is a very different market from the one we saw in the late 1980s or early 1990s, primarily because the Southern California economy is now much more diverse. During that period, the economy here was based on the aerospace, defense and entertainment industries. Today our economy is much more diverse, with financial services, technology, biotechnology and other industries playing major roles on the region’s vitality. A more diverse economy means the chances of a hard economic landing are reduced, and this, in turn, helps to support the housing market.

JJ: What kind of industries might suffer in a soft housing market, and how could that impact the entire local economy?

MC: The real estate industry has a large effect on the Southern California economy, because there are so many people employed in it either directly or indirectly, including lenders, title companies, escrow agents, real estate sales agents, contractors, and developers, This means that a prolonged slowdown would hurt the folks employed in these industries and the overall local economy as well.

JJ: How much do you expect housing in Southern California to drop in the next year? What price ranges will be hit hardest?

MC: I don’t expect prices will fall more than 5 percent to 10 percent from the market highs of a couple years ago, with the hardest hit homes being those in the mid-level price range between $1 million to $3 million.

JJ: What advice would you give to someone who is considering buying or selling a home in Los Angeles?

MC: I’m a big proponent of home ownership. Don’t we all work hard so we can eventually own our own home? My advice is for people to feel comfortable living in a new home for at least five years so interest rates and real-estate-cycle influences are reduced. I don’t think we’re in a market that allows for short-term housing speculation, since the market is extremely volatile.

Jewish Journal September 1, 2006 43


Welcome to the Neighborhood

Like most L.A. residents, we’ve moved many times over the years. From Santa Monica to Culver City, Marina del Rey and then Westwood, it’s not easy to pick up and move 10 or 20 miles with everything you own. At least, that’s how we felt until a little over a year ago, when we made the 7,582-mile move to Jerusalem.

We rented an apartment, and after two months, we started looking for a place to buy. We were used to the traditional wooden ranch-style home with big yards, a garage and a fireplace, set in a sprawling L.A. suburban neighborhood. Of course, we knew we’d need to be flexible — Jerusalem is not, after all, Los Angeles. So we set out looking for a traditional stone ranch-style home with big yards, a garage and a fireplace, set in a sprawling Jerusalem suburb.

Our first clue that things might be just a bit different in Israel came when a realtor offered us a ride to the property he was showing. That is, he offered one of us a ride.

“Sorry,” he said, pointing across the street at his motorcycle. “I only have room for one.”

I’m not sure, but I think in California you have to prove ownership of an Infiniti or a Cadillac to secure a real estate agent’s license.

One of the other differences in Israel is that a real estate agent finds the buyer a property, but that’s about it. The next steps are to hire a lawyer, sit down with a banker and, finally — with your lawyer at your elbow — sign a contract. At first this seemed like excessive specialization. Then, on the first property we tried to buy, our lawyer discovered the city was planning to put in a new road — running right through the property we wanted to buy.

We began to get the idea.

You can find large homes in Israel, although ranch style is pretty much off the menu. Homes in Jerusalem are mostly condos, but in the suburbs there are larger properties — townhomes with private gardens and large single-family homes in communities like Efrat in Gush Etzion.

What you can find in Jerusalem depends very much on the neighborhood. In our case we wanted to be in Kiryat Moshe — a central neighborhood, and that meant getting used to a different approach to housing.

Jerusalem is small by L.A. standards, and space is at a premium. We began to figure this out when we looked at an apartment advertised as “spacious” that seemed to have only two bedrooms.

“No, there’s plenty of room,” the agent explained to my wife, Sarah, waving his hands around. “Just come through here. Wait till you see this!”

They went through a door and there, sure enough, were two more bedrooms, and what was probably the nicest kitchen (though small) she had seen yet.

“You can even rent this out as a separate unit,” the realtor explained, “if you don’t need the space.”

“But isn’t this the, uh, parking area?” Sarah asked.

The realtor smiled back. “Sure. What’s the problem? Zoning laws? If an inspector comes, just take out the beds and open it up. No big deal.”

As you would expect, each neighborhood has its own unique features. After touring a condo in the Old City with an amazing view of the Temple Mount, the agent mentioned, somewhat casually, “Of course, they’re still digging for antiquities in the basement.”

You get used to privacy in Los Angeles. Life is defined by home, work and the commute between, and meeting your neighbors takes a bit of effort and planning. Not so in Israel.

In Jerusalem, people get involved in each other’s lives. We noticed this when we first moved in, walking into our living room to find a fresh plate of cake and cookies waiting for us on a white tablecloth, set out by our landlady. Then, just a few weeks ago, our downstairs neighbor’s son had a bar mitzvah. She had a number of friends and relatives coming into town, and neighbors all through the neighborhood volunteered to host them for Shabbat.

Of course this cuts both ways, as we found when we went to take another look at the home we’re (finally) thinking of buying. We walked down the sidewalk and stopped, looking at the backyard. A boy, around 11 or 12, was sitting on the fence in the yard next door — Tom Sawyer in a kippah.

“Are you buying the house?” he asked, in tones that sounded somewhat suspicious.

“Maybe,” I answered. “We’re thinking about it.”

He kicked his feet a few times, then looked up and asked, “Do you have any children?”

“Yes, we do,” I told him. “Older than you. Why?”

He jumped off the wall and glanced at us, his expression showing impatience that anyone could miss something so obvious. “Boys to play with, of course,” he said, picking up a soccer ball and tossing it, over our heads, to a few of his friends down the block.

If we do end up buying it, I’ll tell my lawyer to be sure to check the contract carefully.

There may be a soccer clause in there somewhere.

Avi Schnurr has been a regular speaker and writer for policy institutes and other forums and received his master’s in physics from UCLA. He is married with four children, and lives, works and studies in Jerusalem.


Negev + Galilee = Israel’s Future

“The Negev and the Galilee comprise 70 percent of the area of the State of Israel with 30 percent of its populace, but they guarantee 100 percent of the future of the state,” said Ron Pelmer, the director of Or National Initiatives, a nonprofit organization that helps to develop Israel’s periphery.

Pelmer spoke at November’s Sderot Conference for Social and Economic Policy, at a session devoted to developing the Negev and the Galilee. The phrase “Gedera to Hadera” — referring to the metropolitan sprawl where most of Israel’s populace lives — was oft heard in comparison with the Negev and the Galilee, considered Israel’s peripheries. Attracting people to the peripheries will take an overall strategy, he noted.

Jewish Agency Chairman Ze’ev Bielski, who chaired the session, described the agency’s role in bringing together Israeli philanthropists and their Diaspora counterparts to help the government implement its decision to develop the Negev. In June, the agency agreed to the multiyear funding of Daroma, a company comprising Israeli and Diaspora businesspeople and public officials who will devote time and resources to develop the Negev. Likewise, Tzafona will be established to help develop the Galilee.

“Real Zionism is to encourage all to move to the Negev and the Galilee,” said Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, adding that the key to developing the peripheries lies in improving transportation to the center of the country. Efficient transportation, he said, will change the periphery into suburbia.

Sheetrit would like every citizen to be able to reach a large urban center within half an hour. Train lines have expanded in recent years, and further expansion is planned. A new train line will shorten travel time from the Negev to Tel Aviv, and another line will bring the Galilee closer to Haifa. Highway 6 (the Trans-Israel Highway) already connects Gedera to Hadera. By 2007, two new sections will extend the highway north and south.

Sheetrit rejected the government policy of offering tax incentives, since only 20 percent of the periphery’s residents reach tax brackets entitling them to such incentives. “It would be better to take the money and invest in a long school day, thus providing equal opportunities for each child. Education is the real answer for social change,” he said.

“The State of Israel will not advance without the Negev and the Galilee. We will have serious problems if we don’t develop these areas,” said Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick of the Sacta-Rashi Foundation, a private family fund dedicated to assisting the underprivileged in Israel’s geographic and social periphery. Although an interministerial government committee has been established, Brick stressed the role of nongovernment organizations, some voluntary, in filling the gap until the government becomes more involved.

The Or movement hopes to market homes in the Negev to 108,000 people by developing housing, services and employment opportunities. It has already helped establish six settlements — five in the Negev and one in the Galilee — and expand 25 moshavim and kibbutzim.

Pelmer moved with his family from Petah Tikva to Sansana in the northern Negev, providing an example for others. “In the Negev there are 200 professional job offers every month, and in the Galilee, 400,” Pelmer said. He wants to prevent people from leaving these areas and attract more young and young-at-heart residents. Since army bases dot the Negev, families of military personnel will live there if services are sufficiently developed, he said. Or is also trying to attract large companies to the area.

The Strauss-Elite food concern is an example of a large firm reaping the financial benefits of operating in the periphery. “It’s a win-win situation,” Director-General Giora Bar Deah said. “There are economic advantages in these areas, like tax breaks and benefits. There’s no shame in benefiting from them.”

Ofra Strauss, chairperson of the Strauss-Elite Group and a Jewish Agency board member, provides an example of industry’s positive involvement by volunteering as a driving force behind the agency’s Babayit Beyahad program that matches veteran Israelis with new immigrants.

Representing local government, Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri placed the blame for his city’s decline since 1982 on government policy, along with lack of local leadership and a master plan. At Acre’s helm since 2003, Lankri has improved infrastructure, developed tourism and stemmed the tide of residents leaving the city. Acre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“As a mayor, I have taken upon myself to improve a city with potential. We must not be alone in this. Without the government bringing strong populations and increasing grants, we are unable to do it alone,” he said.

Young people are seen as the key to development. Discharged IDF soldiers founded the Ayalim association with the aim of keeping students in the peripheries after they complete their studies. Today there are some 26,000 students at southern venues, including Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Sapir College, where the Sderot Conference took place. There are some 47,000 students in northern colleges and universities. Most will later return to the center of the country to find employment.

The main crop of Kibbutz Ashbal in the Galilee is education. Founded a few years ago, its 60 members — all graduates of the Hano’ar Ha’oved Vehalomed youth movement — are involved in educational projects, some unconventional. They work with 4,000 local children and youths from all social sectors, including Jews, Arabs and Bedouin. The kibbutz has a dormitory for Ethiopian immigrant youths who might otherwise have dropped out of school, and has established five study centers in Arab villages.

Professor Alean Al-Krenawi, head of BGU’s Department of Social Work, feels that the Israeli Arab population is ignored. A Bedouin whose brother is mayor of Rahat, Al-Krenawi believes that the programs and initiatives for the Negev serve to weaken the Bedouin population and increase the gaps between them and their Jewish neighbors.

“One cannot ignore the 1.5 million Arabs in Israel. The Arab Bedouin population of the Negev is in a dire economic situation,” he said.

Eitan Broshi, head of the Jezreel Valley regional council, bemoaned the lack of government involvement but also noted the dearth of leaders from the periphery. “Since the days of Ben-Gurion there has been no national leadership from these areas,” he said.

Broshi argued that transportation options are not the solution for outlying areas. “Young people need a purpose and the means to live in these areas. Once people moved to these areas as a national mission. Today they look for self-fulfillment.”

Although the challenge of developing Israel’s peripheries is daunting, Bielski suggests to “look at what we’ve done in the past 57 years” and gain encouragement for the future.


Chabad Brings Brooklyn to L.A.

Amid the kosher restaraunts, Judaica stores and storefront
synagogues on a particular stretch of Pico Boulevard, a little  piece of Brooklyn
has just been built.

OK, the new three-story, 47,000-square-foot brown-brick
building is hardly little, but it is straight out of 770 Eastern Parkway, the Crown
Heights address that houses the central Chabad center and the headquarters of
their former spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, otherwise
known as “the Rebbe.”

After nearly 10 years, $10 million and lengthy negotiations
with the city council and Pico neighbors, West Coast Chabad Lubavitch last
Sunday inaugurated their new girls elementary school, Bais Chaya Mushka, named
after the rebbe’s wife, and renamed the street — located between Doheny and Wetherly
— “Schneerson Square.”

The March 28 dedication — which brought out notables like
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger, actor Jon Voight, Mayor James
Hahn, City Councilman Jack Weiss, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and state
Education Secretary Richard Riordan, as well as greetings from President Bush
and Gov. Schwarzenegger — demonstrates the West Coast religious organization’s
tremendous fundraising powers and their presence in the city. While Chabad has
always had a presence in Pico with its girls schools, middle school, high
school and synagogues, it never dominated the street in the grandiose fashion
it does now.

The 770 replica (this is the seventh, including ones in
Melbourne, Australia; Kfar Chabad and Jerusalem, Israel; Buenos Aires,
Argentina and Westwood) is a fitting tribute to the rebbe, who sent emissaries
all over the world to spread Judaism. One of those young emissaries was Rabbi
Boruch Shlomo Cunin, the director of West Coast Chabad Lubavitch, who, since
his arrival in the Chabad-less West in 1965 has peppered the city with 120
Chabads, and established himself as a figure to be reckoned with.

While the Pico edifice is replicated on old-time Brooklyn,
the school is tailored to the modern day. It features 18 bright and airy
classrooms equipped with Internet access and Pentium 4 Dell computers, an
indoor and outdoor gymnasium with rock-climbing equipment and basketball
courts, playgrounds with rubberized floors and the latest in play equipment, a
large library and a computer and science laboratory.

The new school bills itself as a community school and is
expected to house 330 students. Chabad says that 80 percent of these students
will be on a scholarship of some kind.

The new building has been in the planning stage since 2001.
When Chabad first proposed it to the City Council, they requested permission to
build a four-story, 57-foot building.

But some neighbors were apprehensive about the project. D.
Solaiman Tehrani wrote to the city concerned that “the proposed height renders
the project out of scale with the surrounding commercial developments and
contextually unfit,” and that the pick-ups and drops-offs and playground area
of the school itself would generate neighborhood noise and block driveways. At
a hearing in March 2001, neighbors voiced concerns about the shadow the
building would create, the noise level and the blocked driveways, double
parking and honking that pick-ups and drop-offs would generate.

While there were 13 letters and one form petition of 44
signatures submitted in opposition to the project, there were two petitions and
34 letters with a total of 809 signatures submitted to the city in support of
the project.

The Department of Building and Safety denied the variance to
build the four-story building, but it did allow Chabad variances to the
building code to build a smaller building as long as it adhered to certain
regulations: The building needed to be built in an O- or U-shaped structure with
an interior courtyard that would buffer the noise from the playground. The
school was also required to appoint a traffic coordinator to organize carpools
so that the school could achieve an average vehicle ridership of three persons
per vehicle, and to ensure that all pick-ups and drop-offs would happen on
site, with no vehicles entering the alley. The school was also not permitted to
hold functions like bar mitzvahs or weddings on its premises; to that end they
did not install a commercial kitchen.

“It was a challenge, not a struggle, to get all the
ordinances [approved],” said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, director of public relations
for West Coast Chabad Lubavitch.

Once the building was underway, Chabad had a basis to
spearhead their other project: getting the city to officially recognize
Schneerson, a project that was stymied by previous City Councils.

Weiss and his staff spearheaded the legislation to rename
the area. They first checked to make sure that city had named streets after
religious leaders, so that Schneerson Square would not be an anomaly, and found
streets named after bishops, like St. Andrews Place. Using those streets as
precedents, the city dedicated the block to Schneerson in honor of his devotion
to community, education and philanthropy.

At last week’s dedication, Weiss told the crowd that at the
groundbreaking two years before he had said, “Welcome to 770 Pico Boulevard.”

“But then I checked the numbers and I found out that 770
Pico was around the Staples Center,” Weiss said, noting that renumbering the
street was out. “We are standing at the intersection of Wetherly and Pico — but
I say we are also standing at the intersection of victory and Chabad.”

For more information about Bais Chaya Mushka or other Chabad
projects, call (310) 208-7511.  

Q & A With Simha Lainer

"If you have a piece of fruit," said Simha Lainer, "throw away the skin and eat only the good part inside." Such a wise and optimistic statement could fit right in with the list of "zayde-isms" that Lainer’s granddaughter, Lisa, is compiling for the family in honor of his upcoming 100th birthday.

Perhaps Lainer’s insight comes from a lifetime of selflessness. The Southern California real estate mogul and world-renowned Jewish philanthropist has dedicated his life to supporting Jewish causes, particularly education. To him, giving is simply second nature (see First Person, page 58).

Slipping from English to Yiddish to Hebrew to Spanish and back again, Lainer’s speech patterns reveal the story of his life. As a young man, he moved from the Ukraine to Palestine to South America to Mexico until settling in Los Angeles with his wife and three children in 1951. From establishing funds through the Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles to starting the Simha and Sara Lainer Fund for Jewish Education through the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles to supporting Israel, Lainer and his late wife, Sara, were key supporters of the Jewish community.

The Jewish Journal: On Dec. 14, you will be honored at a special fundraiser dinner for New Jewish Community High School at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel to celebrate your 100th birthday. How does it feel to be alive for a whole century?

Simha Lainer: I’m proud that I have the privilege to live 100 years. God gave me the privilege. I had a very interesting 100 years. I was very active in everything. When I make [God] happy, I have more happiness. All my life I tried to be a good member of the Jewish community and I tried to make friends. My son told me that there will be 400 people at my birthday celebration. It’s amazing. Thank God for the first 100 years. Now I need to begin the second 100 years.

JJ: Do you think your involvement in Jewish education had anything to do with your longevity?

SL: Of course. When you do something for Jewish life, you do it for the good of the Jewish people. For 3,000 years [the Jews] have lived. Other people have disappeared in that 3,000 years, but we Jews have continued to survive primarily because of Jewish education. We need to continue our existence. Not that many Jewish families understand that Jewish education is critical for the continued existence of the Jewish people.

JJ: Why did you choose to devote most of your philanthropic efforts to Jewish education?

SL: My mother used to say, ‘Simha, if you want to receive something, don’t wait. Give first.’ My wife, Sara, and I lived together for 60 years. We had a happy family and we tried to be examples for our children. We tried to be good parents and to always try to do something for the Jewish community.

JJ: What motivated you to keep giving to others throughout your lifetime?

SL: I learned that tzedakah [charity] needs to begin in the home. Tzedakah is also what makes the Jewish nation continue to exist. It’s important to give to other people so that they benefit from it, but it’s also important for one’s self. Jews need to help other Jews. This is not only an example for Jews, but for outside people who will see that Jewish families support each other.

JJ: What is the importance of Jewish education in creating Jewish identity?

SL: The existence of the Jewish people will be extended as long as the Jewish people study and learn. Jewish education is the reason that the Jewish faith still exists.

JJ: Your sons, Mark, Nahum and Luis, are all committed philanthropists in their own right. How did you manage to raise children who are as passionate about Jewish causes as you are?

SL: If you want to be a good parent, you need to give a good example because the children learn more from the home than from the school.

JJ: What do you feel are the biggest challenges in Jewish education currently?

SL: We don’t have sufficient schools. We need to have more Jewish schools. It’s very important. There is no limit for education. The definition of education is that I learn from you and you learn from me. Everyone learns from each other. Never stop learning.

JJ: A lot of local schools have libraries, study halls and other physical facilities named in your honor. How do you choose the schools to support?

SL: There’s Reform, Conservative, Orthodox. I help all three because I don’t know which of the three will bring the


JJ: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in your lifetime?

SL: The best thing I learned is to be a good father and a good husband. Jewish children should learn from their parents. I am happy to have three children. We are in the same business. We are partners and we’re always together. Families can help one another. You need to learn from everybody. You need to take advantage of what you can learn from other people. Be an optimist and look for the good in others.

For more information about the New Community Jewish High School dinner on Sunday, Dec. 14, in honor of Simha Lainer, call (818) 348-0048.

The Circuit

Keepin’ it Real Estate

Becker General Contractors’ Sandy Becker was happy to be at what is known in the real estate and construction business as a “sunriser” — an early morning get-together. With a 4-month-old baby at home, Becker has, in recent weeks, been out of the loop regarding the regularly held sunrisers staged by The Jewish Federation’s Real Estate and Construction Division.

But Becker was one of many real estate-related entrepreneurs packing the 6505 Wilshire Blvd. boardroom for a special dor v’dor panel focused on relatives working together in real estate, which Victor Coleman, president/COO of Arden Realty, moderated.

Robert Gluckstein, owner of Robert I. Gluckstein Investments, shared with the in-the-know industry intelligentsia his highs and lows in the business, as well as some insights into the cyclical nature of Los Angeles’ real estate world. He also traced the career trajectory of his son, Brad Gluckstein, who went from Frisbee-flinging frat boy at Berkeley to becoming the self-made owner of Apex Realty and, more recently, CEO/managing partner of the Conga Room nightclub.

“I’m very proud of my son, because most of what he has accomplished, he’s done on his own,” Robert Gluckstein said.

Brad Gluckstein confirmed that autonomy in a parent-sibling relationship is critical to their healthy working relationship, and that keeping offices and dealings separate has helped achieve those ends.

Melissa Bordy talked about coming aboard as CFO of Held Properties Inc., founded in 1952 by her father, Harold Held, only after working her way up the field of finance at other companies. Unlike the Glucksteins, the Held family works together in the same office.

“Give them the authority to accomplish that responsibility and don’t stand in their way” was Held’s sage advice on how to foster a successful second-generation real estate kin.

Mark Lainer of Lainer Investments spoke of working with son-in-law Brian Fagan. Like the Glucksteins, whose real estate roots go back to 1918, the Lainers are third-generation real estate businessmen who still turn to to 99-year-old patriarch Louis Lainer for Solomonesque advice. Fagan spoke of the savvy and experience he has gleaned working alongside Mark, who in turn spoke about the hands-on nature of their business, which includes investing in properties and managing them.

“As my father liked to say,” Mark Lainer said, “‘I’m the president and I’m the janitor.'”

Raising Bar on Closets

While some Hollywood Jews are coming out of the closet to support Israel, others are going into the closet — but with good reason.

Doorset Closet Mobel prides itself on premium closet spaces manufactured in Israel, where the company has been based since 1986.

LA Architect magazine recently spotlighted Doorset with a special reception at Doorset’s Beverly Hills showroom. Playing hostess that evening was Netaly Bar, the showroom’s sales and marketing manager and the daughter of Doorset founder Amos Ayzenberg, who, with wife Lily Ayzenberg, attended the Beverly Hills reception.

Also in attendance, noshing on hors d’oeuvres courtesy of The Grill: Michael Kienzl and Aaron Alfi, partners in Bradco Kitchens and Baths, another L.A.-based importer of Israeli home design products; Yariv Ben-Yehuda, an Israel Defense Forces Radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles; Ashley Lowengrub, representing products designed by his mother, Israeli sculptor Ilana Goor, and clothing designer James Perse, creator of the Los Angeles-based IAMGE T’s casual clothing line, which LA Architect invited to take part in the evening.

Saluting Kraus

Some 150 members and friends of the Shomrim Society of Southern California, the fraternal society for Jewish law enforcement personnel, gathered at Sinai Temple on April 29 to honor Rabbi Henry E. Kraus for his long service as chaplain to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Among those on hand to honor the rabbi were Police Chief William Bratton; Sheriff Lee Baca; Rabbi David Wolpe; Shomrim President Marvin Goldsmith; Sinai President Abner Goldstine; Dr. Alfred Pasternak, Kraus’s brother-in-law; and his grandsons, Jerry and Dr. Daniel Janoff. Kraus, 88, a survivor of Auschwitz, once served as chief rabbi of the western region of Hungary. — Staff Report

Quotable and Charitable

"Friends are the family you choose." "Say what you mean and do what you say." "Good to forgive. Best to forget."

Such mottos literally surround real estate magnate Stanley Black within his Beverly Hills office. They stare down at visitors from his bookshelves.

So perhaps it’s only fitting that when The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Real Estate and Construction Division honors its longtime benefactor on May 30, the evening will be dubbed "The Quotable Stanley Black."

"I collect various thoughts, proverbs and sayings that I find mostly in magazines," said Black, who turns 70 in October. "My father started to collect them, and I have continued with them."

Black’s father, Jack, who led the United Jewish Fund’s Textile Division, passed away when Black was 21, but not before imparting to him the importance of tzedakah. With his father’s friend, Arthur Kaplan, Black started KB Management in 1955. The duo built and developed over $375 million in real estate holdings, predominantly in Southern California.

When construction costs escalated, KB Management reapplied its energies to developing existing under-utilized commercial properties. Three years after Kaplan died in 1985, Stanley Black and his son, Jack Black, formed Black Equities, which today manages about 500 holdings.

Business aside, Black has been a big supporter of Jewish-formed institutions, such as City of Hope, the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Big Brothers, American Friends of Tel Aviv University, American Friends of the Hebrew University, The Guardians of the Jewish Home for the Aging, Vista del Mar and Yeshiva Gedolah/Michael Diller High School. Other favorite charities include Boy Scouts of America, L.A. Music Center and Union Rescue Mission.

The American ORT Stanley and Joyce Black Family Building — named for Black; his wife of 40 years, Joyce, and children Jack, Jill Zalben and Janis Black — provides immigrants from all backgrounds a place for vocational training.

"He’s a good friend," said Imperial Toys CEO Fred Kort, who Black involved in establishing L.A.’s ORT chapter. "I admire him a lot because he does a lot for humanity."

Black has also been a true friend to The Federation. He was not only instrumental in establishing the Goldsmith Center, The Federation’s current headquarters, but convinced Federation executives not to move their offices West following the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Israel is definitely a cause Black feels passionately about.

"We need Israel," Black said. "If we lose Israel, we’re in trouble."

On the microlevel, Black is driven to effect positive change.

"I try to give charity every day," said Black, who comes from the school of "if somebody asks you for help, you always help him."

For philanthropist Danny Ziv, the 38-year-old founder of Z Valet and Shuttle Service, Black has been an inspiration in how to balance the giving with the getting.

"He’s definitely been instrumental to me, opening my heart and my checkbook to philanthropic causes," said Ziv. "He said, ‘Always remember, when you give, you get back tenfold.’ And it’s true."

The Jewish Federation’s Real Estate and Construction Division will honor Stanley Black on May 30 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. To R.S.V.P., call (323) 761-8233.

Home Is Where the Shul Is

When Sari and Jason Ciment decided it was time to move their two children out of their Pico-Robertson duplex and into a single-family house, they had one major requirement: to stay in the modern Orthodox Jewish neighborhood that boasts three synagogues within walking distance, and was home to their family and friends.

"We never considered moving out of the neighborhood," Jason Ciment said. For him, being able to walk to shul on Shabbat, and having a neighborhood filled with bakeries and other service shops made the neighborhood worth a premium price. But in an area where the cost for a single-family home is often well into the $400,000 range, the Ciments realized that finding their dream house wouldn’t be easy. Their solution? Tear down a dilapidated old structure and built a new house from scratch — a time-intensive but less costly way to stay in their coveted location.

"Buying, we would get half the space for the same money," Ciment said.

As Los Angeles housing prices continue their upward climb, members of Orthodox and Conservative communities, like the Ciments, are having a tougher time finding affordable houses to buy within walking distance of their synagogues — a must for observant Jews who don’t drive on Shabbat. But devout congregations may actually cause homes close to synagogues to have higher price tags because they offer the sought-after benefits of easy access to the community — making it harder for young families to buy in.

Those precious few miles around popular shuls in neighborhoods such as Hancock Park, North Hollywood, Carthay Circle and Carthay Square are not only hip for yuppies looking for a taste of Los Angeles’ urban lifestyle, but also offer religious Jewish families an established community filled with the benefits of kosher stores, schools and social services — helping to keep the flames of a hot housing market burning and leading some to tough choices between religion and real estate.

"A good house in [in Pico-Robertson and the Fairfax areas] can be sold in a week," said Rabbi Perry Netter of Temple Beth Am on La Cienega. "People want to live within walking distance, which of course increases the price of housing."

That’s a point that Larry Harris, a professor of finance at USC and a member of Beth Am, fully understands.

Harris recently moved his six-member family a mile closer to their temple in the Carthay Circle neighborhood, taking them from the "periphery of the Shabbat-walking community" to the heart of it. With four children between the ages of 2 and 9, it’s a relocation that he says has led to "significantly less bellyaching" from the kids on Saturday morning walks. The convenient location of their new house has also led to more invitations to Shabbat dinners and enabled the family to host more popular events themselves, Harris said. Those are all benefits that make the expensive neighborhood worthwhile.

"To participate fully in [an observant] community, you have to be geographically desirable. If you live too far away it doesn’t work," Harris said. But in Orthodox neighborhoods, "there’s limited amount of property available and a lot of people who want it," he adds.

High housing costs in Jewish neighborhoods can be attributed to far more than just religious affiliations, but Los Angeles’ Conservative and Orthodox hot spots boast price tags well above many less-religious areas. The median price for a Los Angeles county home in May 2001 was $232,710, according to the California Association of Realtors. Realtor.com puts the average house price in the Pico-Robertson area at $474,000. In Hancock Park, the average house price is "$700,000 and up," according to Coldwell Banker real estate agent Cecille Cohen — and that price will only earn a house on a busy street like Highland Avenue.

Cohen adds that while the "discovery" of areas such as Hancock Park by actors and other entertainment industry professionals has helped boost prices overall, the homes around synagogues "definitely" command a premium price from Jewish families.

"The people who don’t care about the Orthodox community, when they leave, they tend not be replaced by other people who don’t care," points out Harris. "So these neighborhoods become more and more Orthodox," and therefore more and more desirable for young devout families.

The impact of religious congregations on neighborhood housing prices isn’t unique to Los Angeles. "Whenever there is [an] Orthodox synagogue, the synagogue tends to attract permanent Jewish residents, and as they come in, the prices tend to go up," explains UC Berkeley anthropology professor Michel Laguerre, who recently completed "The Global Diasporic City," a book on religious communities in urban centers. He adds that any community with strict regulations — from Muslims to some sects of Christianity — can have the same effect.

Despite concerns over those high housing costs, Netter said Beth Am has added 250 families during his nine years at the shul and seen an explosion in the number of students at the synagogue’s school. Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, whose Hancock Park Yeshiva and Kehillat Yavneh are striving to attract young Modern Orthodox families to the area, agrees that synagogue membership isn’t suffering — their school has also seen strong growth, and he adds that typical services attract 75 to 100 people.

"It’s really difficult to say if [housing costs] are limiting growth," Netter said. He points out that young families are finding ways to stay close by pushing the community in new, less expensive directions of the mid-Wilshire area: "The neighborhood east of La Cienega has become full of young families that belong to Beth Am," he said. "Nine years ago [when he moved into the neighborhood], there were only two or three families." Now he estimates that number to be between 10 and 15.

Cohen agrees, pointing out that Hancock Park adjacent — an area east of La Brea and south of Third Street — offers houses in the $400,000 range and is growing in popularity as an alternative to Hancock Park proper.

Still, high housing costs have pushed some congregations to radical steps to ensure shul members aren’t forced out of the neighborhood. At Korobkin’s Yeshiva, a new loan program is in the works that would give modern Orthodox families trying to purchase their first home an interest-free down payment loan of up to $35,000 for 10 years, or until the house is sold.

While the loan asks that the recipients attend Yavneh’s services and send their children to their school, nothing is "written in blood," said Cohen, who helps facilitate the program.

But some families are choosing to move out of Los Angeles altogether, forging into areas of the San Fernando Valley such as Calabasas, Woodland Hills or Northridge. Cohen agrees that prices can be much less outside the city — a single-family home can often be found in the $300,000 range. However, he argues that "you get what you pay for," pointing out that areas such as Hancock Park offer more services, and often have the added benefits of shorter commute times and more cultural pursuits.

But for families like George and Julie Schaffer and their 6-month-old daughter Lily, the benefits of a Valley home far outweigh the merits of the city.

"It’s a great little pocket," said George Schaffer of their Woodland Hills neighborhood. "We’re close to temples, we have Jewish neighbors scattered around — if you want to go to music and plays and concerts we know where those are and we go to them. You wouldn’t get something like this in the city for what we paid."

What they paid was $365,000 for a 2,000-square-foot house with a pool, said Schaffer — a home that would easily have cost upwards of $700,000 in an area such as Beverlywood. Those kind of numbers create a powerful dilemma for cash-conscious buyers.

"We did consider the city," Schaffer admits, but adds that comparison shopping between the two areas quickly convinced them that the Valley offered a better quality of life.

While Orthodox and Conservative communities bear the brunt of high housing costs, other Jewish communities are also feeling the crunch. Rabbi Harold Shulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino points out that high prices can make it hard to attract clergy in Southern California.

"If we get a rabbi who comes in, and we want him to live close to the shul, and the prices are exorbitant, you have to adjust their salary and perks. And therefore you have to find the money to pay for it," he points out.

Although housing prices have leveled off in the past few months, finding the money for a first home promises to remain a challenge in hot neighborhoods. But many locals take the cost of Los Angeles life in stride: "I’d be a fool not to worry," Netter said. "But the market is the market."

Time to Buy?

You’re rich. You’re eyeing that million-dollar dream house. Is now a good time to buy it?

"Prices are high in certain areas," notes David Diesslin, a certified financial planner who specializes in real estate at his own firm, Diesslin & Associates, in Fort Worth, Texas. Advising caution, he likens the housing market to the dot-com market. "And there may be some shakeout."

"But it’s a good time to be looking for when lower prices and lower rates will converge," he says.

The next meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets interest rates, is March 20. Talk now is the Fed will lower rates by at least a quarter-point, maybe even before the scheduled meeting.

Meantime, home sales are still brisk and prices are still firm. And you don’t have to be an expert to understand that lower interest rates are driving home sales. The current release of U.S. indicators, comprised of government and private-sector economic data, reports 975,000 new homes were sold in January, up from 909,000 in December. Existing home sales were off, marginally. But that typically has to do with the time of year. And it was holiday season.

To be sure, agents aren’t seeing discounts.

"We’re seeing it starting to pick up," says Emil Alexander, a real estate broker in Pacific Palisades with Prudential John Aaroe & Associates. "People are watchful, but the market is still strong."

Alexander sells throughout the Westside, where some of the most expensive homes in the country are located. Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and megastars from the entertainment industry live in the area, along with wealthy financiers and corporate magnates.

The market in Los Angeles isn’t an aberration. Luxury home sales throughout the country are on the rise.

National luxury homebuilders Toll Brothers and Pulte Corp. are seeing strong demand from buyers.

Pulte said its preliminary new domestic orders in January rose 7 percent from a year ago. And Toll expects 15 percent profit and revenue growth in 2001 based on strong demand and record backlog from last year.

With interest rates declining and the country teetering on a recession, investing in your home may be a safe bet.

"Refinancing is definitely in," says Diesslin.

Typically, real estate and tangible assets are considered recession-proof items. People move toward things like real estate and gold when the capital markets begin to lose ground — and look like they’ll stay that way.

How much you invest in your house is another question altogether. Some financial advisers tell you to pay off the entire mortgage on your house. Others say keeping a mortgage is a good idea. "If you have a long-term asset, long-term debt is okay," says Diesslin. "But it’s a problem if you have no long-term debt and short-term liabilities."

He says a couple recently approached him for financial advice. "They were trying to pay off their mortgage, but they had two leased cars. There’s a difference between intelligent debt and dumb debt."

The basic formula: Keep debt when you can make more money elsewhere on those funds than the cost to borrow.

As well, a home purchase isn’t akin to a real estate investment. There are quality-of-life issues that come into play. Children’s school and job relocation timing all skew investment variables. And then there is pride, especially at the higher end of the marketplace where homes equate to egos.

Carlton Cabot, a real estate agent in Boston, Mass., once showed me a small ivory stone imbedded in the eye of the swirl at the bottom of the banister in his parents’ house in old-moneyed Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill.

"It’s a subtle sign," said Cabot. "It means, to those who know, that your house is paid for."

How you pay off also depends where you live and what type of house you own. In Park City, Utah, you can get a four-bedroom, 4,200-square-foot house on more than an acre of land for $975,000. For almost the same amount in Santa Monica, you can get a two-bedroom, one-bath knockdown on less than one-quarter of an acre.

Location, location, location may be the three things you should know about real estate. But timing should be an asterisk.

And a lot of people think the time is now to buy and own a home. Analysts and observers say wait and see.

Reprinted with permission from Featurewell.com.

Too Hip to be Jewish

Alex Dwek, a London-born real-estate developer, sits with a friend in a dimly-lit cafe on New York’s fashionable Upper West Side, sipping white wine and chatting up a young lady he’s just met. The three of them, all 30-something, fashionably dressed and single, have just emerged from an evening class nearby, where they studied “The Artist’s Way: Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.”

“The teacher says we all have art in us somehow, and we have to recover it,” Alex explains. His companions, Richard Bakst and Lori Mark, nod enthusiastically. “It’s a way of getting in touch with yourself,” adds Richard.

This could be a scene from any one of hundreds of dimly-lit cafes dotting Manhattan. But there’s one crucial difference: Alex, Richard and Lori have come here hoping to meet other Jews. That, in fact, is what this cafe is here for.

This is Makor, one of the hottest new hot spots on the New York culture scene. The brainchild of zillionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, it’s meant to be a sort of Jewish drop-in center for the young and hip. That’s proving controversial.

To a visitor, the five-story townhouse resembles nothing so much as a Hillel House for grownups. There’s a performance space and adjoining cafe (beer and wine, no booze) in the basement, a reading room and lecture hall at ground level, art gallery and screening room above that, and two more floors of classrooms.

Makor’s goal is to attract under-40 singles, who don’t generally frequent Jewish institutions, by offering cultural programs they can’t resist. “We try to bring them higher Jewishly as they move upward through the building,” says Makor’s creative and rabbinic director, Rabbi David Gedzelman.

And if some end up married, well, Makor won’t object. That was a key motive behind the project’s conception, though it’s downplayed lately, having evoked too much smirking. “This isn’t a dating service,” Steinhardt insists. Still, “a measure of the health of a future Jewish community relates in part to Jews marrying Jews.”

For Steinhardt, 59, the community’s health is a personal crusade. A Wall Street legend, he retired in 1995 to pursue Jewish continuity full-time. He created his own organization, the Jewish Life Network, and hired a stable of young rabbis to dream up new ideas, which are then spun off. One grants seed-money for new day schools. Another enlists young Jews in social-justice projects. Steinhardt is an avowed atheist and a political skeptic. Mostly, he’s a sworn contrarian.

Makor, like many Steinhardt initiatives — including Birthright Israel, his best-known — had naysayers howling from day one. Skeptics (your correspondent included) considered it an overpriced JCC for spoiled yuppies. Costing $11 million to build, requiring a staff of 28, it targeted a population that was already richly served by innovative synagogues and no less than two community centers, including the renowned 92nd Street YMHA. Who needed another facility?

As usual, Steinhardt has the last laugh. Five months after opening, Makor draws between 1,000 and 1,500 people a week, staffers say. Its mailing list tops 12,000 names. Monthly Sabbath dinners are always sold out.

“It gives you a good time,” says Alex Dwek, sipping his wine. “Saturday is always packed with people dancing and everything. Sunday you can come for brunch, meet people and hear good jazz. It’s a place where you know you’re going to meet Jewish people. Maybe as a soulmate, maybe not.”

Equally telling, Makor has won a reputation as one of New York’s leading venues for jazz and alternative pop music. Under Gedzelman’s supervision, the basement cabaret, open six nights a week (closed Fridays), books acts as diverse as the Klezmatics, the Christian McBride Band, bluesman Derek Trucks and Pharaoh’s Daughters, an Israeli fusion group.

“It just sort of showed up on the scene a few months ago, and it’s got tremendous buzz,” says Simon Moshenberg, a Columbia University junior who wandered in on a recent Saturday night to hear jazz banjoist Tony Trischka. “They’re booking really great acts. People are coming to hear the music.”

Success prompts new waves of criticism. Makor’s programs are so popular, critics wonder what’s to prevent non-Jews from coming. What if Makor ends up promoting intermarriage instead of fighting it?

The complaint circulated in whispers along Manhattan’s west side for months. Then, last month, the debate exploded into public view in a hostile cover story in the mass-circulation New York magazine. The article, titled “Goy Vey!,” took shots at the Makor phenomenon along with “Kosher Sex” author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Its bottom line: trying to make Judaism popular and hip is bad for Judaism.

That’s an argument rippling through Jewish continuity debates for years. Traditionalists warn that reaching out too eagerly to the unaffiliated risks perverting Judaism. Liberals say refusing to adapt means abandoning most of the next generation.

Makor may be the boldest, most expensive effort yet to test the limits of outreach. “If we want to reach the broadest range of Jews in their 20s and 30s and give them opportunities for Jewish connection and exploration, we first have to meet them where they are,” Gedzelman says.

Will it work? The jury is still out. About half of Makor’s monthly attendance is for the cabaret, half for the upstairs programs. It’s not clear how many music fans actually wander upstairs. Gedzelman is planning a study of his clientele, which should help clear that up.

The study will also show how much of the clientele is Jewish. Gedzelman thinks audiences are 20 to 25 percent non-Jewish at the cabaret, far less upstairs. “We don’t see it as a problem,” he says. “In order to reach the Jews we want to reach, the cafe context has to include the open society.”

The debate rages on, even down at the bar. “I find it strange here,” says Andrew Hahn, a graduate student in Jewish philosophy. “It’s secular, yet it’s Jewish. It doesn’t fit. What keeps it Jewish? It makes sense in Tel Aviv, not here.”

A few feet away, Emma, a non-Jewish filmmaker who won’t give her last name, has the opposite problem. “The whole thing seems narrow-minded and bigoted to me,” she says. “If I’d known what the purpose was, I wouldn’t have come. But now that I’m here, it’s really great.”

Her friend Martine, a Jewish psychotherapist, suffers no such qualms. “I’ve been hearing about it a lot, and I’m glad I came,” she says. “And, hey, if I could meet a Jewish guy here, that would be great.”

J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal

Stars Searching for the Perfect Home Sing ‘My Sharona’

“If you were my client, you’d have six hours of my time. If it’s about me, forget it. In a service-oriented career, you’ve got a lot of clients’ needs to meet first.”

She’s not kidding. Pinning down interview time with real estate agent Sharona Alperin is like trying to re-bottle a liberated genie. Sharona is a blur, always working on a sale or on her way to a house. Even God, her maker, needed a seventh day to rest. But not Sharona.

Then again, Alperin is no ordinary realtor. She is the broker that many of Hollywood’s biggest players have learned to put their trust in. That’s why Alperin is still fuming over the feature Entertainment Weekly ran on her in their June 5 issue, where several of the rich and famous were outed as her clients. Alperin did not condone or cooperate in supplying the names dug up by EW’s writer, which included young superstars du jour Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes; “Heathers” screenwriter Daniel Waters; New Line’s President of Production Michael De Luca; and Dave Navarro, guitarist of Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers fame.

“I was so upset. It was pretty traumatic,” recalls Alperin. “I actually called up Entertainment Weekly and yelled at them.”

Nevertheless, the tireless, husky-voiced Dalton, Brown, and Long agent exhibits a work ethic so supernatural, it’s no accident that Los Angeles Homes & Open Houses ranked her No. 1 in sales for the past three years.

As it turns out, Alperin is somewhat of a celebrity in her own right. Anyone under the age of 40 can tell you that her first name is one of the most famous in pop music history. In 1979, an L.A. pop group called The Knack, billed by Capitol Records as the next Beatles, burst onto the scene with the No. 1 hit song, “My Sharona,” the culmination of lead singer Doug Fieger’s infatuation with a teen-age Alperin. The song has remained an enduring hit ever since (most recently exploited on ’80s revival radio and the 1995 Winona Ryder-film “Reality Bites”).

Alperin, now 37, grew up in L.A. and attended Hillel Hebrew Academy. She was a senior at Fairfax High School when she fell for Fieger and became Fieger’s muse, inspiring the hormone-saturated smash single that skyrocketed the “Get The Knack” album to chart-topping heights and landed her on the cover of the Knack’s poorly received follow-up, “…But the Little Girls Understand.” Alperin and Fieger became a serious item, but like the Knack’s popularity, the couple’s engagement eventually fizzled (although they still remain friends).

It was during this epoch — tooling around Los Angeles with a house-hunting Fieger — that Alperin discovered her knack for finding prime real estate. She honed her home-scouting skills, landed her license and, over the last 11 years, has cultivated the trust of some of Hollywood’s most reticent celebrities.

Has the “My Sharona” association ever been a detriment to her current trade? Not in the least.

“I will never get tired of [the connection]. People get excited with the correlation to the song. It helps people pronounce my name. It has definitely not hurt.”

Today, Alperin specializes in snagging hot properties in L.A.’s most sought-after neighborhoods — Malibu, Los Feliz, Venice, Hollywood Hills and the west end of the Sunset Strip. Alperin describes her customers as savvy, sophisticated and varied in their home-shopping aesthetics. A view and security tend to top their priorities. And her priority is to fulfill the buyer’s individual needs.

Says Alperin, “Seventy percent of my friends are in the entertainment business. My godson’s father is a major agent at ICM… Business is all about the referrals. It’s not the sale, it’s the repeat business… If you sell them the wrong house just because you’re aggressive then you’re gonna pay…” she said.

The lengths that Alperin has gone for her client pool has become legendary. She routinely encodes information on her celebrity deals to protect their privacy and, in one case, found herself in the unlikely position of dissuading the purchase of a home deep in an isolated part of canyon country.

“They were more excited about it than I am…” laughs Alperin. “They thanked me for my concern but went ahead and bought it anyway. I just wanted to make sure that they’re happy.”

“The whole object to success [in this business] is to feel what the buyer is telling you… and not imposing something on them… Especially in entertainment, an individual’s time is so valuable. One client I have, she’s getting married in two weeks. I’ve got four houses to show her.”

An aficionado of traditional architecture who is “learning to love contemporary,” Alperin’s services are such a hot commodity that she rarely has time these days to lounge around her own Spanish-style home. Although she has managed to leave town here and there — a few weeks in Italy, a couple of days in Hawaii — Alperin battles to carve out some free time (don’t even mention vacation).

“My girlfriend just had a bris [for her son],” she says. “It was impossible to take off at 3 p.m. on a weekday. But I did it. You find a way.”

So what has catapulted Sharona’s name from the top of the pop charts to the apex of the real estate game? Alperin herself supplies the answer:

“When I’m not working, I’m networking.”


While many note the westward journey of Jews intoareas such as Calabasas,
West Hills and Agoura, few realize there’s asmall renaissance going on in the
East Valley.

As real estate prices rise in the West SanFernando and Conejo valleys, many
Orthodox Jews are returning to theNorth Hollywood area, one of the oldest
Jewish communities in LosAngeles.

Not everyone has $400,000 to buy a home,and hereyou can still afford to
find a house for $150,000 to $200,000 andstill live in a Jewish neighborhood.

Bernice Zachariash, director of the Emek NurserySchool on Chandler
Boulevard, has worked at the school for 24 years.She said she loves the
close-knit North Hollywood community, whichshe calls “a mini-Fairfax.”

“If you have no children going to school over thehill, you never have to go
there, ” Zachariash said. “There iseverything here you need [to be
observant]: lots of little shuls, themikvah, kosher butchers. Even the
supermarkets in the area arecarrying major kosher items. Hughes Market,
for example, has kosherchicken fresh. You were lucky to find frozen Empire
chicken there afew years back. And as for kosher bakeries, seems there’s
one onevery other corner.”

The only thing missing, Zachariash laments, is anupscale kosher restaurant.

“We have nothing with ambiance here, no Pats or LaGondola, where you can
go out and have a quiet evening without thekids,” Zachariash said.

David Bitton, owner of Le Market, a glatt koshergrocery store on Burbank
Boulevard, said he sees a diverse clienteleof immigrants and Jews from
other large cities like Chicago and NewYork.

He agrees with the “mini-Fairfax”assessment.

“It is like Fairfax but with more parking, lesstickets and faster service,” he

Surrounding Le Market are a kosher pizzeria and akosher bakery, in an area
reminiscent of parts of Jerusalem as wellas Los Angeles. Nearby, there are
several kosher butchers, a glattkosher Chinese restaurant, even a Jewish
bookstore (House of David onVictory Boulevard). Area schools include Emek
Hebrew Academy inSherman Oaks and Valley Torah’s two high schools (one
for girls andone for boys).

Allen Ramer reads with his son Ezra at a father and son Torah study event last year.

As for religious facilities, two of the largestsynagogues, Shaarey Zedek and
Em Habanim, are undergoing renovationsthat will nearly double their size. At
Shaarey Zedek, thecongregation has held their services in a trailer for the
past yearwhile waiting for the new building to be completed. The
expansionwill add 200 seats to the main sanctuary, making for a capacity
of550, thus enabling the shul to hold holiday services there ratherthan
renting space from a hotel. The new sanctuary has a skylight toallow for
indoor weddings and women’s sections on either side of thecentered men’s
section. The building also houses a study hall forminyans; new offices; a
professional-level kosher kitchen; and asocial hall which can sit 400. Shaarey
Zedek has also been home tothe oldest mikvah in the Valley; that, too, is
getting a faceliftwith four additional dressing rooms and a

Rabbi Aron Tendler, associate rabbi for Shaarey Zedek, said the primary
reason for rebuilding the shul is that thesynagogue can hardly keep up with
requests for new classes. Inaddition to his job as an assistant principal at
Yeshiva UniversityHigh Schools of Los Angeles, Tendler gives about five
community lectures a week.

“There’s no question we’re benefiting now from the’settled’ ba’alei teshuvah
movement, those who have [become Orthodox]and are now looking for a
community for their kids,” he said.

Tendler characterizes Shaarey Zedek’s congregationas “eclectic”: “Here
you’ll see black hats, knitted kippot, the newlyobservant and the converted
all sitting together. We have a realemphasis on maintaining open lines;
we’re not into judgingpeople.”

At Em Habanim, growth has been gradual but steady,according to
congregation President Joshua Bittan. The Sephardiccongregation began
meeting in December 1973, moving from a smallstorefront to a house built
on the present property, which was inturn torn down in order to build the
current synagogue. That buildingis now being expanded to include what
Bittan calls “a SephardicJewish Community Center,” which the administrators
of Em Habanim hopeto open this fall.

“We’re very keen on preserving our Sephardicheritage,” said Bittan.

In addition to Em Habanim, there are also fivesmaller Sephardic
congregations within walking distance. The largestof these is Adat Yeshurun.
Hidden away in a quiet, residentialneighborhood, Adat Yeshurun is the
spiritual home of 150 families ledby Rabbi Amram Gabay. According to
Gabay, in the last six months thecongregation added 22 of those families,
and growth continues at sucha fast pace that the shul is looking into building
a school where theadjoining daycare center currently sits.

Gabay, born in Morocco, speaks several languagesbut conducts services
primarily in Hebrew, the common language amonghis diverse congregation.

“We have people from Cuba, Argentina, Panama,Guatemala, Mexico,
Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia, and Libya,” he said.”You get 20 people for a
morning minyan, and if you ask you’ll find18 different citizenships.”

In an effort to build a bridge between thedifferent factions of the community,
Sephardic synagogues in the areaoften share programs with the Ashkenazi
Orthodox community, such as afather and son studying program, that has
been going on for threeyears. Each Saturday evening, fathers and sons from
the neighborhoodmeet at Em Habanim for 45-minutes Torah study sessions
together,followed by a brief talk by one of the local rabbis, and pizza

“It helps everyone start the week off right,”Bittan said.

The Orthodox community’s expansion has filteredout to Conservative and
Reform congregations as well. After years ofsteadily declining membership,
Adat Ari El, a Conservative synagogueon Burbank Boulevard, added more
than 50 families to their membershipin the past year, according to Rabbi
Moshe Rothblum.

“A lot of [the growth] has to do with our dayschool and our early childhood
center, but even the number ofstudents in our religious school has increased
this year,” saidRothblum. “I think there is greater awareness of the
importance ofspirituality in life. Also, the economy has improved, so people
aremore willing and able to affiliate. There are costs obviously inproviding
schools and classes for members, so having more people jointhe synagogue
enables us to do more.”