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."

A Healer Returns

Daniel Libeskind is coming back to New York to help heal the
wounds created on Sept. 11. He won’t be working with words or medicine but with
stone, cement, glass and steel.

“My hopes are that out of the tragedy that happened, from
the depths of the ground, something will soar into the life of New York that
reaffirms the values we share: democracy and family and freedom and
independence,” said Libeskind, whose architectural designs were chosen to
replace the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the Sept. 11 terror

The decision, announced Feb. 27 in New York, means both a
homecoming for Libeskind and the weaving together of themes that wind through
much of his work: openness, contrast of dark and light, the interplay of memory
and dreams for the future.

While Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin is a sprawling
zigzag that hugs the earth, his main tower in Manhattan would soar toward the
heavens. Yet the two designs have something in common: Both contain elements of
sadness and hope.

“I have learned many things” through working in Berlin,
including that “one has to believe the future holds something better than the
past,” the 57-year-old Libeskind explained.

Like his Jewish Museum, which contains a space for
meditation on the destruction of European Jewry, the design for lower Manhattan
includes a memorial at the original foundation of the World Trade Center, where
some 2,800 people were killed. Relatives of some victims already have said they
appreciate the fact that Libeskind did not want to build over the pit.

Libeskind was born in Poland in 1946 to two Holocaust
survivors. He became an American citizen in 1965 and studied music in Israel
and New York.

He was described as a musical genius but ultimately decided
to study architecture. He earned degrees in 1970 from New York City’s Cooper
Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and in 1972 from the School of Comparative
Studies at Essex University in England.

Libeskind and his wife, Nina, moved to Berlin with their
three children in 1989, after Libeskind won the competition to design the
city’s Jewish Museum. It was his first contract, but his first completed
building was the Felix Nussbaum Haus, a museum that opened in Osnabrck, Germany,
in July 1998. His Imperial War Museum in North Manchester, England, opened in
July 2002.

He has a number of other works in progress, including the
Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the Maurice Wohl Auditorium at Bar-Ilan University

Tel Aviv.

The Jewish Museum, the work for which he is most famous, was
completed in 1999. Its unique design drew hundreds of thousands of visitors
even while the building was still empty. The museum was to open to the public
on Sept. 11, 2001, but the event was postponed two days because of the tragic
events in the United States.

“When the attacks happened, I felt personally attacked,”
Libeskind said in a telephone interview from his Berlin office. “My
brother-in-law worked for 30 years in that tower. He had just retired” and so
escaped the fate of thousands of others.

Working on the Berlin museum “prepared me to compete for the
project in New York,” Libeskind said. “I believe the memory of what happened”
in New York “is an eternal part of the place and has to be seriously addressed.
And it is so important to also have something that soars.”

Libeskind said it was essential that people feel comfortable
going to work again at the site.

“It should not be just a symbolic entity. It should affirm
that people work every day at a height that is safe,” he said.

Site developer Larry Silverstein reportedly wanted more
office space in the design proposals.

But “it’s not realistic that anyone would want to work at
that height or that any investor would build it,” Libeskind said. So he created
a place that transforms itself with gardens, an observatory and a restaurant as
it rises to 1,776 feet, symbolizing the year of American independence.

The main tower would be the world’s tallest building. Several
smaller structures would surround it, with the original four-and-a-half-acre
World Trade Center foundation as a focal point.

Libeskind has said it would cost approximately $330 million
to build his design. Construction reportedly would be funded partly by
insurance payments for the destroyed buildings. The plan may go through changes
before it is realized, Libeskind said.

“I think every design evolves, if it is good, and this one
will also,” he said.

Libeskind’s museum has changed Berlin. One of Germany’s most
visited institutions, it has exhibits covering nearly 2,000 years of German
Jewish life. The museum is expecting its one millionth visitor, according to
Eva Soederman, spokeswoman for the Jewish Museum.

School classes provide a large number of the visitors, and
students come away with an understanding that Jews are not merely Holocaust
victims but a people with a rich history, tradition and faith.

Berlin also has changed the Libeskind family — in
particular, his daughter Rachel, who became a bat mitzvah one day before the
gala opening of her father’s building. Speaking to the Oranienburgerstrasse
congregation that morning, Rachel said the history around every corner in
Berlin had affected her self-awareness as a Jew.

“I am the most religious member of the family,” she said.

“That still is true,” her father said with a laugh. “And she
will bring that to New York, a city that has a vital and deeply rooted Jewish
community. That is one of the reasons I am happy we are going there.”  

Honey for the Holidays

In a symbolic and literal demonstration of support for Israel, Orange County’s Jewish organizations are waging a cooperative campaign to send a bit of new year’s cheer to two economically hard-pressed coastal communities near Israel’s Gaza this month.&’9;

Using the slogan “Honey for the Holidays,” 12 local Jewish groups, ranging from political activists to religious conservatives, are committed to distributing to needy Israeli families a minimum of 2,000 jars of the golden nectar.

While limited in duration, the local project echoes other initiatives to convert public sympathy for Israel into economic action, which appear to be modestly successful. They also reveal the risks and limitations of such endeavors. “I absolutely think this is just a beginning,” said Lisa Grajewski, an Irvine stockbroker, who is organizing the honey airlift for the Orange County Israel Solidarity Task Force.

At several different locations around the county, supporters can either purchase honey that will be distributed to an Israeli family or share a tangible connection by donating a jar and buying another for their own home holiday use. The timely ingredient is widely used in dishes prepared in celebration of the new year, Rosh Hashana and the harvest festival, Sukkot. For Israeli recipients, a Rosh Hashana card from the task force is included that says, “We are with you in sweetness and sorrow.”

The effort shows the willingness of the county’s often-fractious organizations and religious denominations to work cooperatively for a common cause. Even two Christian churches, in Irvine and Santa Ana, expressed interest in providing flyers to their members.

“This is truly a community program,” said Lou Weiss, president of the county’s Jewish Federation, based in Costa Mesa. A marketing consultant, Weiss recently applied his skills leading a focus group during a four-hour brainstorming session among task force members to organize an agenda. “Honey for the Holidays” telegraphs both moral and economic support.

“To have the greatest possible impact, we’ll focus all of our efforts to these two communities,” Weiss said.

Sending honey to Israel is akin to sending coals to Newcastle. The condiment is produced by one of Israel’s largest apiaries, Yad Mordechai, located in the agricultural region Hof Ashkelon, north of Gaza. The area includes 18 settlements, both cooperative farms and kibbutzim.

To the northeast is Kiryat Malachi, founded in 1950 as a tent city for immigrants from Yemen. Its population ballooned to 40,000 in recent years amid an influx of immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, many of whom are unemployed.

The needs of the two Israeli communities are already well-known to some, such as Beverly Jacobs, a ceramist from Irvine and Federation board member. During a visit to Kiryat Malachi in June 2001, she helped sixth-grade elementary students polish their English and supervised a clay project at a senior center, both part of Partnership 2000 programs. Since 1996, United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella organization for 156 community Federations, has tried to strengthen ties between Diaspora Jewish communities and ones in Israel through these sister city-like exchanges.

In that time, 14 western communities, including Orange County, have cumulatively directed $3.5 million to Hof Ashkelon and Kiryat Malachi out of their allocations to overseas causes, said Leslie S. Robin, a regional UJC coordinator in Woodland Hills. Steering committees in the United States and Israel establish priorities, such as funding scholarships and camps.

Recently, however, the consortium quit funding economic development to focus exclusively on social programs. “It was too small an amount to make an impact,” Robin said. About $850,000 was allocated this year by the consortium, double the amount sent in the program’s first year.

Even so, Israel’s tourist-based economy is withering under two years of unrelenting bloodshed. Some believe “Honey for the Holidays” could build momentum locally for a buy-Israel program. “Every little bit helps,” Grajewski said.

How much isn’t clear, but even Israel’s government is giving it a try with Anecdotally, at least, some Israeli businesses have benefited financially from consumers who wield purchasing power to make a statement.

“We do sense a change in buying patterns,” said Erez Zitelny, a spokesman for Edushape Ltd., in Deer Park, N.Y., a distributor of educational toys made by the Israeli makers Taf, Edushape, Orda, Halilit and Gil. He says sales reflect popular sentiment. Israeli-made goods were “punished” over the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, he said. The sentiment is now swinging the other way, with ongoing suicide bombings. “In fact, in the past two months we show an increase in sales due to the fact that our products are made in Israel,” Zitelny said in an e-mail interview.

Jane Scher, of San Diego, founded last February to counter her own feeling of hopelessness over Israel. At least one proprietor has had to hire extra help to cope with orders from the site.

“As much as they’re spending money, they’re also writing messages,” said Scher, of the site’s 175,000 visitors. Many of the 250 retailers, selling products from art to olive oil, are as appreciative of the well-wishes as the new business, she said. “It makes the world a small place,” said Scher, who emigrated from South Africa to the United States in 1981.

Like early dot-coms, Scher site has a 14-year-old Webmaster, Matthew Feldman. After that, any other similarities to a commercial dot-com cease. Scher spurns advertising, refuses to track purchasing, collects traffic cumulatively instead of monthly and refused a merger proposal by Israel’s export office. She has welcomed government aid in screening potential additions. Feeling vulnerable to sabotage, she’s rejected 50 businesses, including some based in Bethlehem and Ramallah. “We couldn’t be sure they would have Israel’s best interests at heart,” she said.

In a sign of the maturation of the dot-com, Scher is scrambling to formalize the site by incorporating as a nonprofit in order to raise capital. Cash is needed to improve the site’s effectiveness with a search feature and an additional section for manufacturers, who are eager to add their own links.

Although still astounded by the unpredictable nature of cyberspace, Scher is pushing ahead. “There are very few times in our lifetimes when you can take the lead and have a huge impact in people’s lives,” she said.

Checks can be written to “Honey for the Holidays” in multiples of $18 and sent to the Jewish Federation of Orange County, 250 E. Baker St., Costa Mesa, CA, 92626. Honey can be purchased through Sept. 10 at the Jewish Federation office and JCC Gift Shop, both on the Jewish Federation Campus; Hebrew Academy, Huntington Beach; Morasha Jewish Day School, Rancho Santa Margarita; Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, Irvine; Temple Bat Yahm, Newport Beach; Temple Beth Sholom, Santa Ana; and North County Chabad/Congregation Beth Meir Ha’Cohen, Yorba Linda.