“American Pie” star Shannon Elizabeth may appear to have perfect skin. But Michelle Ornstein knows that everyone, even stars, have bad skin days. And when they do, they turn to this Israeli-born spa owner for help.
“Everyone breaks out. Teens, movie stars, homemakers. People who break out from everything come here,” said Ornstein, running her fingers through her thick brown curls.
Nestled between Crescent Heights and Fairfax on the oh-so-hip Melrose Avenue, Enessa derives its name from the Hebrew word nes (miracle). “To me, aromatherapy is the miracle of the essence,” Ornstein said.
To walk into Enessa is to relax. The stone mezuzah in the doorway welcomes you to serenity. Freeway road rage and smog-related stress give way to calming water fountains and copper leaf inlays in the cool cement floor. The spa’s clean lines and open spaces reflect Ornstein’s skin-care philosophy. “Cleanse, hydrate and moisturize,” said Ornstein, who returns to Israel every few years. “Keep it simple.”
Simple and natural. Aromatherapy, originally practiced by ancient Egyptians and Greeks, is the art of using essential oils (concentrated plant, flower and herb extracts) to enhance well-being. The oils, absorbed into the bloodstream, help the body release toxins and impurities. Based in this practice, all of Enessa’s treatments and products are 100-percent natural. “Synthetic oils and chemicals clog pores and stay in your body. Essential oils are released in six hours,” said Ornstein, who herself has sensitive skin and is allergic to most commercial cosmetics. “Imitation products may smell like aromatherapy, but they lack the actual healing properties,” she said.
Ornstein found topical antibiotics and Retin-A too harsh, so she created her own line of organic products. She now sells over 30 different skin-care secrets. The “Friends” make-up artist hooked Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and Brad Pitt on Enessa products and all three male “Friends” stars use the aftershave moisturizer.
My luxurious hydrating facial ($70 for 45 minutes) started with the lavender cleanser, followed by a bio-exfoliant scrub, a generous application of cypress oil facial nourishment and a delightful calming mineral mask. She also applied clove oil for microcysts (I now swear by this miracle zit zapper), rose oil eye treatment (great for moisturizing lips, too) and the indulgently moisturizing rose geranium hydrosol.
Many of the products that Ornstein sells at the spa are Israeli influenced. “I import a lot from Israel, like the Dead Sea salts I use in my body polish and mineral mask,” she said.
During facials, she employs a softening gel and nylon strips to open pores. Though most American spas use steam for this procedure, Ornstein finds the Israeli gel method more effective. “With steam, pores go from one extreme to the other, shutting immediately after the steam is turned off. With the gel, the pores remain open, so I can concentrate on one area of the face at a time,” she said.
Ornstein, of Yemenite descent, imported another Middle Eastern beauty secret to Los Angeles: threading. Enessa is one of the few spas nationwide to provide this ancient hair removal treatment. Knotted threads are used to remove facial hair by the root, without disturbing the skin. “Waxing can remove a layer of skin, causing irritation and sun exposure. Threading ($15-$65) is less invasive and the hair grows back thinner,” she said. Salma Hayek is not Ornstein’s only threading fan. Thanks to Ornstein, my eyebrows look fantastic.
Ornstein’s heritage plays a large role in and out of the spa. “Celebrating the holidays, having a Jewish home, it’s really important to me,” said Ornstein, who attends services at Baba Sale in the Fairfax area, keeps a kosher home and is hosting a large family seder this Passover.
It is difficult to balance business and family, the successful businesswoman admits. Married in 1996 by Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz of Chabad of the Marina, Ornstein and her husband, Steve, an auditor, now reside in the Miracle Mile with their 18-month-old son, Daniel. “I’ve cut down on my time in the spa. I don’t want to miss out on the most beautiful thing in the world,” said the proud mother, who pulls out an album overflowing with family photos.
Now in its fifth year, the spa has become a haven to celebs and Chasidim alike. Enessa’s full line of treatments includes facials, body polishing, waxing, threading, massage and acupuncture. Although Ornstein downplays her celebrity clientele, this Hollywood hot spot is a long way from her humble beginnings.
Eighteen years ago, she worked out of her tiny Los Angeles apartment. “I’d advertise in the local Israeli newspapers, and women would climb the stairs to my place to get their legs waxed,” she said.
“In Israel, skin care is number one. Everyone gets a monthly facial; here it is treated more like a luxury than a necessity,” said Ornstein, who moved from the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan at age 13.
Ornstein discovered her skin-care passion while attending Beverly Hills High. “I broke out horribly at 16. I tried everything, nothing worked. And my first facial was traumatic,” said Ornstein, who then took to wandering aisles at the health food store. “I read the labels on all the jars to figure out what might help. I’d go home and make my own masks,” Ornstein said.
She enrolled in a local beauty school after graduation, but trained in aromatherapy in a Tel Aviv academy. “In Israel, I learned natural solutions for problem skin, how each plant and herb possess their own unique power,” Ornstein said. “I also learned that everything affects your skin. Your lifestyle, your diet, acupuncture, exercise.” She looks to Israeli folk dancing, salsa dancing and yoga for release.
With Ornstein’s help, I leave Enessa feeling pampered, relaxed and complexion glowing. And like so many of her celebrity clients, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”
For more information on the spa and its products, visit
Take 12 Steps
It would be hard to exaggerate the significance of The Jewish Federation’s Addiction Conference held Monday at the Skirball Cultural Center. But to compare, think back to the Shechinah Conference held 20 years ago at Hebrew Union College, which helped consolidate and shape Jewish feminism. In its willingness to creatively address perhaps the biggest social issue of our time, the Skirball program is that big a deal.
In truth, it was not the "first" West Coast conference on the subject of addiction and the Jewish community. More than two decades ago, L’Chaim, an Alcoholics Anonymous-style organization for Jews, made a similar effort to bring a dirty secret of Jewish life out into the open at its conference. There have been alcoholics and drug addicts ever since Noah, just as there have been Jewish professionals trying to help us face our demons.
Nevertheless, the larger American zeitgeist of "recovery" makes this event historic. The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, formalized more than 65 years ago by Bill W., are now the common parlance of millions, who gather together to share their experience, strength and hope to overcome personal obsessions deemed out of control. To nail the point, last year, California voters passed Prop. 36, allowing some drug offenders to participate in treatment programs including those using the 12 Steps, rather than jail.
Thousands of Jews consider themselves members of the "anonymous fellowships," including Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and Al-Anon, for relatives and friends of the addicted. These Jews speak the language of "powerlessness" and "Higher Power" and say the "Serenity Prayer" as often and as easily as they do the "Shema."
Until now, these Jews in recovery have met with their fellows, mostly in churches, often with twinges of guilt that they were somehow committing treason, if not embarking on a course of spiritual schizophrenia.
But on Monday, a host of community authorities, including many addicts themselves, rose to assert that the language of recovery is congruent with Judaism.
"All the principles of the 12 Steps were in Judaism 2,000 years ago," declared Dr. Abraham Twerski in a keynote speech titled, "Twelve Steps and Torah — Is there a Fit?" Twerski, a white-bearded Orthodox rabbi who might have popped out of a Sholom Aleichem story, is a national authority on chemical dependency. He shocked many in the audience with his matter-of-fact quoting of 12-Step principles side by side with Talmud.
The day was an enormous breakthrough.
First, Jews can now feel free to walk the 12 Steps without thinking they are on the road with Jesus. These programs may not be exclusively Jewish in tone (the language of the program is a mix of Carl Jung, Buddhism and 1950s Christianity), but they are decidedly focused on Jewish purpose: overcoming the "evil inclination" and finding God’s will.
Second, the Jewish community, by this conference, is admitting that it, too, is powerless over addictions. We can’t hide from them, nor feel confident that our community alone can solve them. Drugs are everywhere, as the morning’s keynote speaker, Ethan A. Nadelmann, insisted. And we can no longer pretend that the consequences of obsession with drugs, alcohol, sex and whatever are limited to an aberrant few, most of whom end up in jail.
Scoffing at Jewish addiction is an age-old sadistic tradition, represented at the conference by UCLA’s professor Mark Kleiman."Jewish addiction is like Jewish basketball," Kleiman said. "There’s not much of it, and it’s not very good."
But this trivialization of individual and family crisis is, thankfully, no longer going to hold. Playing the numbers game to disprove a Jewish problem didn’t stop divorce or homosexuality from becoming a reality. When the community is ready to accept a social condition, it does so.
Third, the Jewish community admits that it has something to learn from another spiritual discipline. Rabbi Paul Kipnes from Congregation Or Ami suggested that synagogues open their doors to 12 Step programs. He has created a six-congregation ad hoc Rabbinic Coalition to Support Jewish 12 Step Programming. This had to be an enormous first step.
In a day filled with mind-blowers, here is my favorite, from Twerski:
"I feel sorry for those who don’t have addictions," he said. "They don’t hit rock bottom. So they’re missing out on some of the greatest ideas in life."
Confused and Tangled Times