Let’s play horsie!

It was a strange series of events that led me to being on a horse, too early in the morning, while I was on vacation in Hawaii.

I had only been horseback riding once
before, during the one summer I worked at a sleep-away camp. The experience had not left a positive memory, as nearly all my campers hated it, it was hot, and my horse, lovingly named Elmo, had nearly run me into a tree.

So how did I end up in this precarious position? Well, my boyfriend and I were in Hawaii and, in the spirit of “trying one another’s likes,” we had taken turns choosing activities that sounded like fun. I chose para-sailing, he chose jet skiing; I chose zip lining, and he chose horse back riding. I definitely was not pleased with the idea of actually spending money to sit atop a very large animal that either would, or would not, traumatize me. But I knew that I would just have to grin and bear it.

After all, that is how relationships work, right?

Give and take, compromise, and try new things; I had previously tried and liked camping, so who knows, maybe I needed a second attempt at horseback riding to really like it.

Now, I’ve never been an animal person. I’m convinced that whatever part of an animal-liking gene I should have been born with was divided between my older brother and younger sister. Each of them must have gotten an extra helping, leaving me with a barely palpable amount of animal tolerance. I’m the type who will wave at a dog — unlike my siblings, who will throw themselves on the floor in a puddle of baby-like cooing.

The minute we got near the horses, I vividly remembered just how much of a non-animal person I truly was. But I straddled the horse and proceeded to hold on for dear life. So there I was, in the middle of a white-knuckled-grip ride down a too steep, rain soaked trail, and not happy in the least. My boyfriend, on the other hand was grinning from ear to ear, bringing his horse to “say hello” to mine.

I decided to try to make the best of it. As we meandered down the trail, I started looking around and enjoying the fabulous scenery. The lush green hills dropping off to a sparkling sunlit ocean sent my photography senses tingling; only trouble was, I was afraid to let go and get my camera out of its very secure case. So I decided to just enjoy the scenery, as we slowly walked by.

Sounds good, right? The trouble was that my horse, Buster, had a slight eating disorder, and viewed the entire trail as a meandering all-you-can-eat salad bar. Every few steps Buster would stop, graze, I would pull up on the reigns (as my boyfriend kept telling me to do), give a little kick (as the guides told me to do) and urge the horse forward with some positive reinforcement.

“Come on horsey, you can eat lunch later!” When that didn’t work I tried, “Come on Buster,” pulling up on the reigns and giving a nudge, “Come on!”

Nothing worked. My horse was backing up the single-file line of riders, and I was getting frustrated.

Why did this have to happen to me? The first time I went horseback riding, my horse had a challenged sense of direction, and now I had the binge-eating horse?

My boyfriend’s horse was an egotistical stallion; he would trot up ahead of the group and then turn around and come close to me to say hello. Which of course made my horse tense up, and the two would start to bicker with one another.

“Our horses don’t like each other,” I told my boyfriend.

“They are just being friendly,” he insisted, coming a bit too close to my horse for comfort.

Friendly, he said. Sure, because friendly means trying to bite each other in the face. If that is friendly according to him, maybe I should start being concerned …

By the 50th time that I had to nudge my horse to keep moving, I began to wonder if Buster was an emotional eater. Was my white-knuckled grip making my horse nervous? Or was Buster reading me as a ‘sucker’ and taking advantage of my niceness. Hmmm …

After the two hours passed and we finally returned to the stables, I got off the horse and did a John Wayne-esque walk: knees burning, sweat dripping, hobbling back to our car. My boyfriend was nearly flying with excitement, and it was then that I realized it was all worth it.

Would I ride again? Not in the near future. But it was definitely something I could hazard doing again, just to see that look of pure joy on my boyfriend’s face. After all, I know he would do the same for me.

Caroline Cobrin is a freelance writer living in Van Nuys. She can be reached at carolinecolumns@hotmail.com.

Alex Baum: Wheels of a Dream

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Alex Baum, who will be celebrating his 84th birthday on Dec. 30, fought in the French Resistance, survived two and a half years in the concentration camps, and has since dedicated his life to performing good deeds, most notably in his advocacy of amateur athletics.

Yet, when asked if he is a mensch, he says, “You never know.”

Baum is of French Jewish ancestry, but he speaks with a German accent, befitting one who was born in a small town in Lorraine, which along with the province of Alsace was frequently the subject of territorial disputes between the French and the Germans. Concerning the war, he says without embellishment, “We fought the Germans in any possible way we could.”

Although he was caught by the Nazis, he convinced them that he was a resistance fighter, not a Jew. Due to his Algerian passport (his mother was from the North African country), he was treated as a political prisoner in the camps. The Nazis did not question why he was circumcised, because Algerians, being desert dwellers, practiced circumcision for hygienic reasons.

After surviving the Holocaust, Baum vowed that he would be a good role model, like his grandparents and uncles: “I felt a need to do that.”

He moved to the United States shortly after the war and settled in Chicago, where he played semipro soccer for the Chicago Kickers. A center-forward on the team, he scored his share of goals, but his greatest goal has been developing cycling programs and recreational facilities for inner-city kids in Los Angeles.

When not working as a caterer, his living for 30 years, he has been an adviser to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the previous three Los Angeles mayors, but Baum is not simply a cycling enthusiast and fitness fanatic — he has also shown the vision of an urban planner and the determination of a mensch in implementing the now-ubiquitous bike paths throughout the city of Los Angeles, pioneering the Tour of California bike race and building velodromes in Dominguez Hills and Encino.

Of all his projects, he remains most passionate about the creation of bike paths and facilities along the L.A. River. In the next 10 years, he expects to see a 50-mile path bordering the river from the Valley to Long Beach. Speaking with unmistakable enthusiasm, he envisions the following: “You can stop anywhere through the city, enjoy the Sunday or the weekend without using the car; [you can] even ride at night. We have lights and rest stops, parks and a restaurant.”

Although the complete river restoration has not come to fruition yet, Baum says that, due to all the bike paths in recent years, 2.5 percent of people now go to work by bike, as opposed to 0.5 percent in the past.

Despite constant talk of ethanol and hybrid cars, this goodwill ambassador to the city of Los Angeles, who served on the 1984 Olympic host committee, might have the simplest and greenest solution of all for Los Angeles’ gridlock as well as global warming — riding a bike.

Shatner Horse Trek; Four of a Kind; Star Bright; Mayor Meets Mayor; Social Justice? Here I Am

Horse Trek

William and Elizabeth Shatner made their first U.S. public appearance on behalf of the William and Elizabeth Shatner-Jewish National Fund Therapeutic Riding Consortium Endowment for Israel last week at “An Evening of Magical Information.”

The $10 million endowment will support therapeutic riding programs for the disabled throughout Israel so that more individuals can benefit from the essential contribution equine therapy makes to the overall well-being of the disabled. The long-term hope is to forge cooperative networks between Israel and neighboring countries in support of therapeutic riding for the disabled.

Four of a Kind

The San Fernando Valley Council of Na’amat USA (formerly Pioneer Women) honored two local couples Sept. 10 with its 2006 Distinguished Community Award. Marilyn and Jerry Bristol and Trudy and Lou Kestenbuam were recognized for their decades of philanthropy and public service. The lunch at Braemar Country Club in Tarzana raised $75,000 for the Petach Tikvah MultiPurpose Center in Israel. Middle East expert Yoav Ben-Horin gave a thoughtful speech on the current situation in Israel and reminded everyone that events in the Middle East never turn out predictably. Phil Blazer served as master of ceremonies for the evening.

Star Bright

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Mayor Meets Mayor

Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts hosted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Mayor Yona Yahav of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, on Yom Kippur. The Israeli city was recently shut down for more than a month during the destructive Hezbollah missile attacks.
“Mayor Yahav is a symbol of resiliency” said Baron. “This is a recurring theme of Yom Kippur — that the Jewish people will endure hatred and violence to pray for peace.”

The vision of Temple of the Arts, which was founded by Baron, is “to reconnect fellow Jews and all people seeking spiritual enlightenment with the beliefs and traditions of Judaism through the arts.”

For further information, or to attend the services, call (323) 658-4900 or visit

Chabad Cafe Makes Waves in Malibu

The recently mounted mezuzah on the front door of a soon-to-be opened restaurant in Malibu is symbolic for many reasons.

It marks the first kosher eatery to open in the seaside community. It also symbolizes Chabad of Malibu’s first foray into mainstream life in a city of surfers and celebrities.

Chabad has been cultivating its surf town persona since 2001, purchasing several buildings and a house across the street from the Malibu Pier. A sign posted in front of the property portrays the silhouette of a Chabadnik riding a surfboard.

But good waves aren’t enough to attract the sun-imbued to Chabad’s way of life. So resident Rabbi Levy Cunin decided to open the recently renamed Malibu Beach Grill, hoping to tempt more taste buds than tefillin.

"Obviously, this is not Pico-Robertson," Cunin said. "And while we are offering kosher food, that doesn’t only mean matzah balls and gefilte fish. There will be beef and chicken here, too."

The restaurant is poised to open during the first two weeks of September. Workers have been scurrying about the building, taking measurements and sterilizing. Meanwhile, a temporary banner posted curbside reads, "Malibu Grill … It’s All Good."

Not so to the restaurant’s former occupants, whose last day at the location was Aug. 8.

For eight years, Malibu Chicken rented the space from Chabad, and now it claims it was evicted for a kosher restaurant that will profit from its clientele, which includes stars Adam Sandler, Barbra Streisand, Jim Carey, Meg Ryan and Pierce Brosnan. But Chabadniks say they always intended to create a kosher restaurant on the property.

"It’s not right. We were here for a long time," said Sharon Caples, who ran the restaurant with her brother, Sean Caples. "And now they are going to profit from the clientele we built up over so many years."

However, Cunin said it had always been Chabad’s intention to open a kosher restaurant in Malibu.

"And it was very difficult for me to tell Malibu Chicken that they needed to find another location," he said. "What can you do? It is not like I was closing an animal hospital."

For many, it’s the end of an institution.

Eric Gross, a local surfer, ate at Malibu Chicken a couple of times a week. He said after practically growing up on the food, saying goodbye was no easy feat.

"I used to sit and talk to the owners every day. And I’m not sure how a kosher restaurant will do here. It’s not like there are a bunch of people in Malibu searching for kosher food," said the 25-year-old, who works in a neighboring office building. "Besides, I think a lot of people are still angry about what went down."

Sean Caples’ frustration still causes a slight crack in his voice, but he would not comment about the restaurant for legal reasons. His sister, who managed Malibu Chicken, said she attempted to convert the restaurant into a kosher establishment, although several months of contacting rabbis and attempting to work with Chabad proved fruitless.

"It’s very hard to convert a restaurant to a kosher restaurant when you’re not Jewish," Caples said. "We even called on a rabbi in the Fairfax region to help us. But we were evicted before we could even begin to start the process."

Cunin agreed that converting to a kosher restaurant is especially difficult if the owners are not Jewish.

"You can’t just expect someone to have a kosher restaurant because their arms are being twisted behind their back," Cunin said. "It has to be something in your heart. Something you willingly want to do."

The rabbi does not plan to run Malibu Beach Grill. He has entered into a partnership with a Jewish businessman who will contractually own the restaurant.

However, Chabad will still charge rent and take a percentage of Malibu Beach Grill’s gross receipts. Cunin said generally 10 percent is an appropriate amount for tzedakah (charitable giving) purposes.

The search for a new Malibu Chicken location continues for Sean Caples. He still has the surf and kayak store above his former restaurant. But Cunin said Chabad’s board plans to lease the space to a new business that will still keep the surf and kayak theme.

A dry cleaners on the property adjacent to a Hebrew school will remain the only business independent of Chabad if Capel’s kayak store is evicted.

Sharon Caples said she and her brother are not certain whether they will pursue litigation should the Malibu Beach Grill be identical to their former restaurant.

"It’s just been a slap in the face to us," she said. "And the Malibu residents have been so kind over the years. We’re just sad to say goodbye."

But the greatest hurdle for Chabad has yet to be cleared.

"Malibu is a very spiritual place," Cunin said. "And I hope people come and see what we’re doing here. I’m interested in learning about surfers and their spirituality."

"I’ve always liked a good challenge," he continued. "And it is amazing how much we have in common with the people here in Malibu."